Immigrants in sanctuary in churches hope Biden offers relief

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Maria Macario pauses as she talks about her family during an interview at the First Parish church, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Bedford, Mass. For three years, Macario has been too afraid to leave the confines of the church, which she moved in to avoid deportation, spending most of her time in a converted Sunday school classroom stocked with a hot plate, mini-fridge, TV and single bed. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BEDFORD, Mass. – For over three years, Maria Macario has been too afraid to leave the white steepled First Parish church just outside Boston.

The 55-year-old Guatemala native moved in to avoid deportation, living in a converted Sunday school classroom with a kitchenette.

Her isolation has only been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Gone are the regular church gatherings and volunteers stationed around the clock in case immigration officials come. To keep her spirits up, singers gather outside to serenade her.

She hopes things change with Joe Biden in the White House. He set out to pause most deportations for 100 days and pitched a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people without legal status — an ambitious and dramatic reversal from former President Donald Trump's hardline immigration policies.

“It’s a relief,” Macario said. “It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

She's among dozens of people from Colorado to North Carolina who have taken sanctuary as a last resort to stay in the country. Their actions have been extreme, particularly those who have declared their whereabouts. Many immigrants without legal status, who were increasingly fearful and anxious during the Trump years, upended their daily routines to evade detection, including avoiding driving.

Newly hopeful, they're trying to capitalize on the moment, even with setbacks like a ruling blocking the Biden administration from enforcing its deportation moratorium and uncertainty over whether Congress will tackle immigration reform.

Those who have taken sanctuary have enlisted lawmakers to ask Biden for relief, pushing to cancel deportation orders and reviving the use of private bills — measures to protect a person or group. Sanctuary activists also have sued the federal government.