Published On: Sun, Jun 18th, 2017

Woman takes refuge in Greensboro NC church to avoid deportation

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According to the Chicago tribune, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, 49, has been living in the cinder block room that used to be the nursery for St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro for two weeks.

She has a bed, a nightstand and a small TV. Her family visits her during the week, but eventually they leave. She’s grateful for her room and the volunteers taking turns to visit her, but she wants to go back to her home in Asheboro.

 “Without even knowing me, they opened their doors to help me,” Ortega said. “This decision was difficult. I decided to stay here for my family.”

Ortega is the first person facing deportation in North Carolina to obtain sanctuary in a church. A growing number of sanctuary churches nationwide are offering people a place to eat, sleep and wash, beyond the reach of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since 2011, ICE has had a policy of refraining from entering sensitive locations such as churches, hospitals and schools to arrest, interview, search or carry out surveillance.



Individuals seek sanctuary as a last resort to avoid deportation and to buy time to obtain at least a stay of removal that temporarily delays deportation.

Ortega came to the U.S. from Guatemala almost 25 years ago to flee guerrillas she says were threatening her. While she was seeking asylum in 1999, Ortega left the U.S. without authorization from the government to care for a daughter in Guatemala who had a life-threatening illness. She returned to the U.S. with a false visa two months later. In 2011, ICE detained her at her job at Sanger Enterprises, a furniture textile company. Since then, every year, ICE has postponed her deportation order, until this year.

During her routine visit with ICE in April she received an ankle bracelet and a deportation order to leave the U.S. by May 31. Leaving the country would have meant saying goodbye to her family her husband, four children and two grandchildren.

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