About 60 people picketed outside of US Sen. Thom Tillis’ office in High Point around noon today in support of Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, a 45-year-old Guatemalan woman who is taking sanctuary in a Greensboro church in defiance of a deportation order from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Surrounded by news cameras, Tobar Ortega’s daughter, Yeimy Molina Tobar spoke briefly to an aide outside the office, asking him to pass along a message to the senator requesting his support for a stay of removal on her mother’s behalf..

Tobar Ortega, who was scheduled to be deported today, took sanctuary inside St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro on Sunday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, maintains a “sensitive locations” policy, which provides that enforcement actions at sensitive locations, including “places of worship,” “should generally be avoided.” An FAQ on the agency website goes on to say that enforcement actions at churches and other sensitive locations “require either prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action.”

Lesvi Molina, one of Tobar Ortega’s four children, said the family has tried everything to stay the deportation, and taking sanctuary was the last option for her mother.

“She is the center of her family,” Molina said outside Sen. Tillis’ office. “We need her to stay with us. She still has a 15-year-old that hasn’t graduated from high school. She still has a 22-year-old, Jackie, who hasn’t graduated from college.” Molina added that her mother also has two grandchildren in North Carolina. She said her mother has been in the United States for 24 years.

The American Friends Service Committee Carolinas office, which is supporting Tobar Ortega, said she is the first person to take sanctuary in a North Carolina church in recent years. The vestry at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, pastored by the Rev. Randall Keeney, voted unanimously to shelter Tobar Ortega. According to the American Friends Service Committee, 1,700 people have signed a petition calling on ICE to allow her to stay in the United States.

Before meeting with Sen. Tillis’ aide, about 60 people held signs along the shoulder of Eastchester Drive. Many of the signs, with messages like “Immigrants make America great” and “What if this was your mom?” alluded to Tobar Ortega’s plight. Others, like “Where is my senator?” and “We demand a town hall” carried a more general theme.


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