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Race & Equity
Follow our coverage of immigration and related issues affecting Latinos in the Charlotte area.

Guatemalan Mother In Sanctuary In NC Church For 4 Years Allowed To Stay In U.S.

Citlaly Mora/American Friends Service Committee
Juana Tobar Ortega (center) pictured with her husband, four children, and one of her two grandchildren at an event announcing her sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro in May 2017.

After spending four years in sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, Juana Tobar Ortega, an immigrant mother from Guatemala, will not be deported by the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security granted Ortega a stay of removal Tuesday. The decision stops department agents from following through with a deportation order unless it is revoked because of an arrest or conviction.

Ortega first sought sanctuary at St. Barnabas in May 2017. DHS reissued her deportation order following a routine check-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Charlotte in February 2017.

According to immigrant rights group SiembraNC, Ortega was the first of seven immigrants who sought refuge in churches throughout the state in 2017.

SiembraNC leaders also say the decision makes Ortega the last person in sanctuary in North Carolina granted to stay in the country since the Biden administration took office in January.

In a press release, SiembraNC shared that, while in sanctuary, Ortega's eldest daughter, Lesvi Molina, gave birth to a son and that she finally will be able to spend time with him at their home in Asheboro.

"I want to thank God and all of the people who have helped us,” Ortega said in a news release. “I wish blessings to everyone who has supported me and my family. I'm so glad to be able to return home."

"Juana has been a beacon of courage for immigrant women across the country for the last four years," said Kelly Morales, executive director of SiembraNC. “She has worked tirelessly all this time to support local and national immigrant rights organizing at the same time as she was continuing to practice her craft as a seamstress to help support her family.

“I'm glad she can finally return home and rest, and I hope the administration will continue to use its authority to grant stays of removal to North Carolinians like her, hundreds of whom still have active orders of removal which could result in needless family separation."

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