Suyapa Reyes (center, in red) walks with supporters in Germantown last week. Reyes won the right to remain in he U.S. last month. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

A crowd of roughly 100 people stood on the steps of First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG), 6001 Germantown Ave., on March 12, cheering and holding signs that read, “Victory when we fight, we win!” and “No Mas Corazones Rotos y Familias Separadas – No More Ripped Hearts and Families Separated” to celebrate Suyapa Reyes’ win in her immigration fight and to accompany her on a “Freedom Walk.”

Reyes, 38, and her four children Jennifer, now 14; Yamie 9, Jeison, 4, and Junior, 2, seemed a bit stunned by the television cameras and reporters, who rushed upon them when they opened the doors.

After 554 days of living in sanctuary, Reyes could finally live without fear of being deported and being separated from her two youngest children who were born in the U.S. On Valentine’s Day, Senator Bob Casey’s Office notified Blanca Pacheco, co-director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services reversed their decision and granted her deferred action and approval for a special visa.

Through a translator, Reyes, who came to the U.S. in 2014 seeking asylum, told the crowd, “I am happy today because I have achieved what I am hoping for. I am with my family. I am not separated from them.”

Despite this, she said she felt “a little bit of sadness” leaving behind all the people who have surrounded her with love and support during this ordeal. She seemed unable to talk without occasionally stopping to wipe a few tears.

“I thank all of you who have supported me,” she said. “there is no way I can repay you for all you have done, but I know God will repay you.

Reyes began crying once again adding she wanted to thank Peter Pedemonti and Blanca Pacheco, co-directors of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia and her lawyer David Bennion, who directs the Free Migration Project.

“I know I would not be here without them,” she said. “I know I am crying, but I think these are tears of joy.”

Reyes’ lawyer explained that she won her case because she was approved for a U-Visa. A U-Visa is a type of legal status that is granted to victims of serious crimes who report the crime and collaborate with authorities in the investigation and prosecution of that crime.

Bennion said receiving the approval for the U-Visa is a “critical juncture” because it provides them enough protection to leave safely without her children being taken away from her. Since two of Reyes children were born in America, she would have been deported and forced to leave her youngest children here.

Rev. Robert Coombe, senior pastor at FUMCOG, said at the gathering that “at the heart of” Christian Gospel is “liberation and being set free.”

“Today celebrating this freedom and liberation, we are also mindful that there are other families in sanctuary waiting for their liberation from fear from oppression, from control, …let us also remember those who are at the border who long for their day of liberation and freedom,” he said. “Today is not an end to sanctuary because the sanctuary movement continues to offer places where people can come be safe, feel safe …until decisions are made by leaders in this countries by recognizing that every human being is a beloved child of God.”