Undocumented Immigrants Seek Shelter in American Churches

09 March, 2017

Ishmael Delgado has been living in the United States since the early 1990s.

Delgado entered the country without legal permission. He came alone across a desert.

Two years ago, the U.S. government told him to return home because he is an undocumented immigrant. A short time later, Delgado fled to a church in Phoenix, Arizona.

Today he sleeps on a bed in the bottom floor of the building.

"I came alone with my clothes, and the first day I don't remember, too much things passing in my head."

Delgado has exchanged his freedom for the safety of Shadow Rock Church.

"Pastor Ken -- at the beginning, I saw him, I saw his eyes. He wants to help me. He says ‘The doors of Shadow Rock are open for you' -- oh my God."

The Reverend Ken Heintzelman is the head of the church.

"He (Delgado) needs a chance and our system doesn't allow for many chances for people."

Delgado admits the U.S. immigration system might not give him another chance. But he says living in the church has changed him.

"Right now I don't say bad words. I don't need alcohol to live. I don't smoke. I don't need it."

Sixto Paz, another undocumented immigrant, joined Delgado at the Shadow Rock Church nine months ago.

"I feel like my son, my little son is my power. This is something that can give me more strong to stay and fight."

Sixto sees his son from time to time, but he misses have a job.

"Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. In the morning, sometimes you feel like everything is going fine. If you go check TV, someone coming like saying Trump doing this law, Trump just signed this up. It changed. You feel like ‘what's going on? What happened with the world?'"

Other undocumented immigrants are living in fear of the U.S. government. They know the protection offered by some religious groups can last only so long.

I'm Marsha James.

VOA Correspondent Katherine Gypson reported this story from Phoenix, Arizona. John Smith adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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