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Philly immigrant emerges from sanctuary after one year

Mexican man continues to fight for citizenship after leaving Center City church.
Javier Flores (Karen Rodewald)

A year ago, Javier Flores, 40, took sanctuary at Arch Street United Methodist Church, seeking protection from the U.S. immigration system.

On Wednesday, he walked into daylight knowing he has earned a spot on a deferred action list, and that he could return to his home in Northeast Philly.

"Javier has shown us how bravery and resistance are crucial to fighting back against the erosion of our rights," said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, a Latino community group. "His family, like any other, has the right to be together and to live with dignity. We must continue to build the resistance against the Trump administration."

Flores, a Philly resident since 1997, has a U-Visa, but was "deemed deportable," Juntos said, due to past border crossings attempting to see family members. He was detained by ICE in 2015, and spent 16 months detained at both York and Pike County Detention Center. Juntos claimed his children had to enter therapy for PTSD due to witnessing armed ICE agents detain their father.

While he was released, Flores did not believe he could resolve his immigration status before potentially facing another deportation action, so he entered sanctuary days after Donald Trump was elected president.

"He was released from Pike County only to be given three months to get his papers in order, which was not enough time, and therefore was forced to make the brave decision to enter sanctuary, once again in an effort to keep his family together," Junto said.

Flores' wife Alma and daughter Adamaris protested over his detention while Pope Francis visit Philly in 2015, and Adamaris says Pope Francis blessed her as he passed holding a sign for her father. The also protested at the DNC.

Flores left sanctuary after being granted a waiver for his re-entries, which allow his U-Visa case to continue, Juntos said. He was granted "a deferred action while he waits for his case is determined by USCIS, which could take a year or two," they said. "In the meantime, he will be granted working papers and be free from the fear of deportation

Leaders with Juntos praised Flores even as they condemned the Trump administration's recent crackdown on Sanctuary Cities like Philly with nationwide raids of sanctuary cities that saw some 500 undocumented immigrants detained. ICE says it focuses on criminals and gang members, but Juntos has criticized the organization for using "Gestapo-like tactics."

"On the eve of the Trump administration’s one year anniversary and just days after 'Operation Safe City' led to the disappearance of 107 people at the hands of ICE in Philadelphia," Junto said in a statement, "the victory of Javier and his family serves to remind us that in the face of white supremacy and massive criminalization of people of color in this country, the only way to ensure our freedom and to be with our families is with acts of resistance and bravery."