North Carolina Grandmother Spends Holidays in Sanctuary
Community calls on Senator Tillis for action
GREENSBORO, N.C.— This year, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega will celebrate Christmas from the confines of the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro. Ortega took sanctuary in St. Barnabas in May of 2017 as a way to prevent separation from her family after she received a final order of deportation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She has been in sanctuary for seven months and was the first of four immigrants currently seeking sanctuary in North Carolina congregations.
“Christmas is always the time my granddaughters come over, I cook for the whole family,” said Ortega, who remains active in her Randleman church from 45 minutes away. “It’s hard to be away from them, and to be worried that ICE could come even to this church at Christmas, just as they are forcing so many families to be apart right now.”
Since ICE has rejected Juana’s application for a stay of deportation, her family is asking Senator Tillis to defend them from family separation and to personally submit her request for a stay to ICE. “Since June, Juana’s family has been asking Sen. Thom Tillis to tell them if they think she should be deported after 26 years here,” said Andrew Willis Garcés, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee. “He claims to be an advocate for immigrants but has been silent on the question of whether Carolinians like Juana should be separated from their families. For Christmas, all we want is for him to take a stand, and use his influence to keep this family together.”
Ortega has spent the last several months learning to sew pillows and cushions at the church and has been selling them in exchange for donations to help her family replace the income she lost when she was forced to leave her job.
Ortega arrived in Asheboro, North Carolina, in 1993, fleeing threats of violence in Guatemala. She has worked at the same High Point textile company, Sangar Enterprises, for eight years, and is active in her son’s high school and her local church. She has a U.S. citizen husband, two citizen children, one who is 15 years old, two DACA recipient children and two 9-year-old grandchildren.
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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.