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A Cleveland Heights, Ohio church today became a sanctuary, taking in an undocumented mom of four who has lived in the US for 20 years, protecting her from deportation and separation from her family.
Leonor Ferreyra Garcia was one of the many immigrants who was not considered a deportation priority under the Obama Administration, but whose life has been upended by the Trump presidency. She came to the US twenty years ago with an uncle after her mother died; she had also been a victim of domestic violence. In 2011, her husband was deported to Mexico, and Leonor was left to take care of her four US-citizen children alone. She would rise at 3 AM to feed her infant son, report to work at a window factory at 6 AM, and by night fill out paperwork to stall a deportation case that was opened against her in 2011. Leonor owns a house in Akron, pays her taxes, pays her mortgage, and has never been charged with a crime.
Leonor had an annual check-in with ICE on August 1st; under the Trump Administration, typically uneventful “check-ins” with ICE have been used as “silent raids” to deport immigrant mothers and fathers living in the United States for decades. Leonor’s August check-in resulted in an ankle monitor and deportation order for September 14. Instead, she took sanctuary at the Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in an event that may be inspiring other churches to open its doors to immigrants.
As Senior Pastor John Lentz, Jr. of Forest Hills said today:
We are here today to announce that Forest Hills church has invited Leonor to live here at this church in sanctuary until such time that she is able to return to her home in Akron, to her work, to her community, and most of all to her family….
Separating a mother from her children is not what we do as people of faith. It is not what Americans should do either. Rather, giving women shelter is what we do. Showing hospitality to those in need is what defines us. Standing with all of God’s children everywhere is who we are. Being the beloved community is what we will be.
We’ve been following Leonor’s case since 2011, when we first met her. She’s been a strong leader for the immigrant community in northeast Ohio. This summer, Leonor bravely addressed the audience and media attending the Akron Interfaith Immigration Association’s Father’s Day prayer vigil. When she told those assembled that she had a check-in with ICE on August 1 and was scared, the room erupted with pledges of support.
Now, she is living inside the Cleveland Heights church, and will see her children every weekend.
Religious leaders from other faith institutions and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Cleveland Chapter spoke at the press conference organized by Forest Hills Church. It was a moment of interfaith beauty and community. Watch the entire press conference here: