Greensboro church to offer sanctuary to immigrant ordered to leave U.S., group says

Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, third from left in the front row, with her family.
Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, third from left in the front row, with her family.

A Greensboro church was to offer sanctuary Wednesday to a Guatemalan immigrant whom federal agents ordered to leave the country, a Quaker group says.

The American Friends Service Committee says Juana Luz Tobar Ortega will be the first person to be offered such sanctuary in North Carolina in recent years.

Ortega was to enter sanctuary Wednesday morning at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church instead of bordering a plane to Guatemala as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordered, the committee said in a statement Tuesday. The church’s vestry voted unanimously to shelter her rather than separate Ortega from her family, it said.

About 1,700 people have signed a petition calling on ICE to stop her deportation, the committee said. Following her welcome at the church, Ortega’s supporters will go to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ High Point office to ask him to intervene.

Supporters say Ortega, who works at a High Point textile plant, arrived in Asheboro in 1993 after fleeing threats of violence in Guatemala. She has four children and two grandchildren in the Piedmont, and her husband and two of her children are U.S. citizens.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this woman to be torn away from her family and her community,” the Rev. Randall Keeney, vicar of St. Barnabas, said in a statement. “She’s a child of God and we will give her shelter until ICE drops her deportation order.”

The committee quoted Ortega’s oldest daughter, Lesvi Molina, as saying the family seeks a stay of removal by ICE as it has done for six years. ICE has rejected Ortega’s application for a stay, the committee said.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender