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Greensboro Church Shelters Guatemalan Immigrant Ordered To Be Deported

Juana Tobar Ortega (lower center) with family members.
American Friends Service Committee / Betsy Blake
Juana Tobar Ortega (lower center) with family members.

A church in Greensboro is offering sanctuary to a Guatemalan immigrant who is in the U.S. illegally.
Juana Luz Tobar Ortega took refuge on Saturday inside St. Barnabas Episcopal Church with the blessing of church leaders.  

"This is really an act of civil disobedience," says Reverend Randall Keeney, vicar at St. Barnabas.  He says church leaders see the issue as one of religious freedom, and responsibility - to offer hospitality to people who they believe are in danger or oppressed.  

"You can refer to that as illegal if you'd like," says Keeney.  "We prefer to use the term prophetic," he adds. 

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) had ordered Ortega to leave the country by Wednesday.  She came to North Carolina in 1993, fleeing the threat of political violence.  Ortega's husband and two of her children are U.S. citizens. 

ICE said in a statement emailed to WFAE on Wednesday that Tobar Ortega has received "all appropriate process" with federal immigration courts and is subject to removal from the U.S.   The statement adds that it is ICE policy in general to avoid enforcement actions at 'sensitive locations' - including churches and other places of worship.  

WFAE's Mark Rumsey spoke with Rev. Keeney about the church's decision to offer refuge to Juana Tobar Ortega.