Members of the Spirit of Life Presbyterian Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, prepared to say goodbye to one of their members last week, but the anticipated tears of sadness turned into tears of joy when Gladys Mbonifor was granted a stay pending her appeal.
Mbonifor, who is from Cameroon, came to the U.S. in 201. She and her daughter settled in Apple Valley and quickly connected with the church and community. She filed for asylum and was assigned an immigration customs enforcement officer.
Last November, Mbonfior was denied a stay of removal with immigration officials saying she had overstayed her temporary visitor status.
“Last Friday, Gladys was supposed to check in with ICE, get her passport, and go to the airport,” said the Reverend Rob Smith, pastor at Spirit of Life. “Because of the deadlines, members from our church had packed all of her belongings.”
At the last minute on Thursday, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted Mbonifor an indefinite stay as long as her asylum appeal remains open.
“Last Thursday was a hard day before the news came down. It was a tough day. The one person who never gave up hope and who was faithful, believing that God would come through, was Gladys,” said Smith. “It’s a testament to her faith. Of course, it was tough for her and the concern with the deadline getting close, but she was just crying tears of joy and that was shared by the whole community.”
Smith says it is a victory, but there is plenty of work ahead.
“We ended up winning the NFC championship game and now we are preparing to win the big game,” he said. “Her attorney has already sent us the next steps in preparing to win the final appeal.”
Smith says that if Mbonifor is granted final appeal, that would be the final step and she would then have legal status to stay in the U.S.
In preparation for possible deportation, Mbonifor’s legal team had been looking at the option for her to relocate to a third country versus returning to Cameroon, believing a return to her home country would be a death sentence.
“There are so many things in life we want to deal with head on, but my hope and prayer is that this continues to take time for the pendulum to swing back,” said Smith. “We are grateful that the board gave us the stay and hopefully that’s indicative that the case is already being made for why she should be here.”
The Office of the General Assembly has been monitoring the situation in Apple Valley and is happy with the initial outcome.
“Gladys’ unwavering faith, tenacity, and persistence are beacons of God’s goodness. The support and accompaniment from her community and the larger PC(USA) sustain that beacon,” said Amanda Craft, manager of immigration advocacy. “It is an extremely difficult and challenging time for asylees in the U.S., but there are glimmers of hope. And when we stand together, that hope burns brighter. The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly and the Office of Immigration Issues will continue to accompany Gladys and the Spirit of Life Presbyterian Church as her case moves forward. Today, I rejoice and celebrate with Gladys and her community.”
Smith says the outcome is in God’s hands now.
“Our faith has been strengthened most by the witness of her faith, trusting that God is at work in the world right now. May we all be encouraged by this and part of that encouragement is that we are called to also move into action,” said Smith. “A combination of her devotion to faith and community, with the community joining in support, all of that contributed to where we are today, and may it be a lesson for all of us to engage.”
Smith says Mbonifor’s legal battles have only mobilized the interfaith community.
“I’m very encouraged by the courage of our church and the so many partners that helped. We had several congregations that joined us on Sunday to celebrate,” he said. “Many churches have come, organized and showed up, doing things in their own congregations to support Gladys. Elected officials check in with me regularly and it’s been a tremendous effort. All of that is God’s hand at work.”
Most asylees who enter the United States from the southern border are being sent back to wait their claim in Mexico. Currently, there are more than 50,000 individuals and families seeking the right to find safety and security in the U.S. but are stuck in Mexico. Partners with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, in which the PC(USA) is a steering committee member, are marking the anniversary of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or Remain in Mexico program on Wednesday, January 29.
For more information, go to #Faith4Asylum campaign.