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North Carolina grandmother scheduled for deportation takes sanctuary in Greensboro church

Photo: Betsy Blake / AFSC

GREENSBORO, NC (May 31, 2017) Instead of getting on a plane to Guatemala as she was ordered to do by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Juana Luz Tobar Ortega instead entered sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, NC. The church’s vestry voted unanimously to shelter her rather than allow her to be separated from her family. Over 1,700 people have signed a petition calling on ICE to stop her deportation.

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

Juana was the first person in recent years to be offered sanctuary in North Carolina. She will be formally welcomed into the church on Wednesday morning. Following her welcome, Juana’s family and supporters will travel to Sen. Thom Tillis’ office in High Point to ask him to personally submit her request for a stay. 

WHO:      Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, her young grandchildren and supporters from Triad congregations & social justice groups

WHAT:     Declaration of sanctuary and formal welcoming, followed by visit to Sen. Tillis’ office

WHEN:    Wednesday, May 31st, 10am 

WHERE:  St. Barnabas Episcopal (1300 Jefferson Road, Greensboro) at 10am, & Sen. Thom Tillis office (1840 Eastchester Drive, High Point) around 11am. The event will also be streamed on facebook live at

“We’re only asking them to continue to grant her a stay of removal, as ICE has done for the past six years,” said Lesvi Molina, Juana’s eldest daughter. “My mom has spent about $17,000 over the last 23 years trying to adjust her status. We would like there to be a path for her to get permanent residency, but ICE just seems to want to punish, not to work with us.” 

Since ICE has rejected Juana’s application for a stay submitted by her attorney, her family is asking Senator Tillis to defend them from family separation, and personally submit her request for a stay to ICE.

“ICE is a terror in our community,” added Laura Garduño García, an undocumented mother of two in Greensboro. “Juana is doing this as a last resort, but there has to be a real solution to ICE’s terror tactics. If he values immigrant communities’ safety, Senator Tillis should step in."

Juana arrived in Asheboro, NC 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 fifteen years old, two DACA recipient children and two nine-year-old grandchildren. 

“Sanctuary is more than just a building,” said Andrew Willis Garcés, an organizer with the American Friends Service Committee. “Sanctuary is the idea that everyday people can come together to create safe and healthy communities, and to protect each other from harmful policies that tear families apart.”


American Friends Service Committee - Carolinas Office is supporting Juana, her family and her support committee based at St. Barnabas Episcopal to stop her deportation. AFSC 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.