During Memorial Day weekend, the leadership and congregation of St. Barnabas, Greensboro, decided to offer temporary shelter to Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, an immigrant facing deportation on May 31.

Ortega is a mother of four who lives in Asheboro and has worked at the same textile company in High Point as a sewing-machine operator for the last eight years. She is a highly valued employee with an expertise in sewing that, though once abundant, has become rare. She arrived in 1994 from Guatemala, fleeing violence, and applied for asylum status. Her petition was denied, but she was allowed a work permit while she filed an appeal, which took six years.

In 1999, her eldest daughter in Guatemala suffered a life-threatening illness, and Ortega left the country and returned without permission in order to be her daughter’s caregiver. Immigration and Customs Enforcement subsequently revoked her work permit, ordered her to leave the country, and in 2011 took her into custody, then released her a week later.

Since then, she has reported to the Charlotte ICE office periodically for required check-ins, but last month, instead of accepting her attorney’s plea for a stay of removal, ICE ordered her to prepare for voluntary departure, telling her she has until May 31 to leave the country, potentially leaving her husband, children, uncle, and cousins behind.

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The decision to offer Ortega sanctuary is not a step St. Barnabas took lightly. TheRev. Randall Keeney, rector; the Rev. Leslie Bland, deacon; the vestry; and the congregation have spent more than a year in a discernment process that included research, consultation with legal professionals, prayer, and conversation.

“As it says in Leviticus (19:34), ‘the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God,’” Keeney said. “St. Barnabas has struggled with this Biblical call for some time. Our prayers and our companionship with the immigrant community led us to this place. Our simple hope is to support Juana and her family as they so bravely cling to the dignity given to them by God.”

Adapted from the Diocese of North Carolina

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