Sanctuary Collective Leaders

Sanctuary Collective Leaders

We work in solidarity with other Immigrant Sanctuary Leaders who are part of the National Sanctuary Collective/Satuario Colectivo and who have taken sanctuary across the US.

Abbie Arevalo Herrera

Abbie Arevalo Herrera is a mother who came to the U.S. to seek asylum after facing years of domestic violence and death threats in Honduras.  In June 2018, Abbie sought sanctuary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, rather than report to ICE to be deported to Honduras, where she feared she would be killed.  Abbie lived in sanctuary for 32 months, during which time she took care of her family, learned English, and made lifelong connections with community members.  The Reverend Sherman Z. Logan, Jr., now Senior Minister at the church, commented on Abbie’s “grace, dignity, courage, and faith” in sanctuary.  Abbie left the church on February 25, 2021, and just celebrated her second Christmas out of sanctuary at home with her family in Henrico, VA.

María Chavalán Sut

María Chavalán Sut is an indigenous Mayan Kaqchikel woman from Guatemala who survived horrible atrocities as a child during her country’s civil war during which more than 200,000 were massacred, kidnapped, or disappeared (their whereabouts are still unknown even now in 2022). After the war, María went to school and became a teacher. When María refused to hand over her house , it was set on fire and burned to the ground in the early hours of the morning with the family still inside. By the grace of God, Maria and her family escaped.

At that point María fled to the United States to seek asylum. At the U.S. border, she was detained for a month and suffered physical and mental ill-treatment and abuse.

When she was released in January 2017, María was told to report to the ICE office closest to her home in Virginia. There she was instructed to return to the ICE office in January 2018. During 2017-2018, she checked with ICE to ask if a court date had been set, but was repeatedly told that they were not aware of a court date for her. When she returned to ICE in January 2018, she was detained and informed that she was being held because she was absent from her court date. But María had never been informed of her court date.

ICE placed María on an intensive supervision (ISAP) and monitoring (EMP) program which resulted in her being watched 24/7 by a monitor that was locked around her ankle and with weekly visits to her home by ICE officers. The ankle monitor would vibrate at any time of the day or night interrupting daily activities and sleep, leading to physical and mental harm. Maria still suffers from the physical and neurological damage that monitor caused to her ankle, foot, and toes. And with each visit from ICE, came the fear of being detained or deported.

Fearing for her life and deciding to once again confirm her faith in God, María took sanctuary in September 2018 at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia where she received the support of the church community. Throughout the Trump Administration, the COVID-19 pandemic, and to this day, the church has been there for María. Yet, so was the threat and the fear that ICE would detain and deport her.

In 2019, ICE initially fined María $214,132 and later $59,925 for remaining in sanctuary. The fines brought further pain, suffering and trauma on top of everything María had already endured. María finally received official notification on April 10, 2022 that those fines were rescinded, but the impact of those fines remains.

In February 2021, María received a Stay of Removal. In February 2022, her Stay of Removal was renewed for one year but without a work permit. Without a job, María still lives at the church with no way to earn enough money for rent, food, medical care, or transportation. As an indigenous person, she is accustomed to working hard and supporting herself through her daily work. Her being forced to rely solely on the efforts of others is contrary to her native culture and her religious beliefs.

Today, María feels that she is in limbo with her life hanging in the balance. Yet she still has faith in God. Her case is in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. She continues to live in the church, with the hope that deferred action, a work permit, a positive outcome in her case, and that relief from the constant pain and suffering she has endured will be possible. Maria’s advocacy for indigenous peoples is steadfast. She is grateful to Mother Earth who feeds us all without prejudice and gives us all life.

Vicky Chávez

In 2014, Vicky Chávez fled domestic abuse and violence in her native Honduras to seek asylum in the U.S. She came to Utah to be with the rest of her family who were already living here.

Once in the US, Vicky had the misfortune of being very poorly represented throughout her early legal efforts to attain asylum and her initial case was denied. In that denial, the immigration judge recommended that Vicky appeal his decision and hire new counsel to effectively represent her. So, in December 2017, Vicky filed a motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to have her asylum case reopened, but before that motion could be heard by the BIA, Vicky was issued an order of deportation.

On the evening of January 30, 2018, her suitcase was packed but she had hope that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would call her while she was waiting at the airport to grant her a last-minute stay of removal that would have temporarily prevented her deportation. But instead, it was her lawyer who called to tell her that her request had been denied. Fearing for her safety and that of her two young daughters, she decided to take sanctuary at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. In June 2018, the BIA denied Vicky’s request to reopen her case. In November 2018, Vicky filed an appeal of the BIA’s decision with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which was later denied.

Vicky filed numerous stay of removal requests with ICE. For the most part, they were ignored or denied.

In July 2019, Vicky received notification that ICE intended to order her to pay a fine in excess of $453,000. The stated purpose of the fine was for being in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Further investigation indicates that sanctuary leaders were targeted with these exorbitant fines for being vocal about being in sanctuary. Vicky’s attorney successfully challenged the fine in September 2019 and ICE withdrew the notice of intent to fine in October 2019, only to issue a new lesser fine of $59,126, which was appealed and has now been rescinded.

On April 12, 2021, Vicky received notification that a one-year Stay of Removal had been granted.  She left Sanctuary on April 15, 2021. She has continued working on her case, was granted a work permit, and has started working. However, a permanent path to citizenship is not yet clear for Vicky.  She is seeking renewal of permission to remain in the United States to care for her children and to escape the threat of violence and death if she and her daughters were to be deported to Honduras.

In April 2022, Vicky received written notification that the fines had been rescinded, but that does not erase the years of anguish, pain and trauma over the imposition of these fines and still the threat of deportation remains.

Vicky is the mother of two young daughters, ages 5 and 11, one of whom is a U.S. citizen. The youngest was 6½ months old when Vicky entered Sanctuary. By the time Vicky was granted a Stay of Removal, Vicky’s youngest child had spent 86% of her young life in Sanctuary.

Ingrid Encalada Latorre

Ingrid Encalada Latorre, migrated to the US 2000 in search of the American dream escaping the poverty and corruption of her birthplace in Peru. Her trip to America was extremely difficult and having to leave her family behind did not make it any easier.

After several weeks of travel Ingrid was welcomed by her aunt and uncle in Colorado. In 2003 Ingrid made the decision to buy a false Social Security Number. She felt obligated by the system to do this because without it she was not eligible to work or go to school. By doing that she was able to work at a nursing home and pay taxes. Here, she was in charge of looking after elderly people and was in charge of dishwashing duties. It was a very difficult job. In 2010, authorities arrested Ingrid for using a Social Security Number that belonged to someone else. Ingrid spent 3 months locked up without being able to see her eldest son Bryant, who at the time was 2 years old and was her only child. Early one morning a sheriff spoke to Ingrid and told her that her bail had been paid. It was a surprise for her. That morning, she was released but immigration was waiting for her and handcuffed her ankles and wrists.

Ingrid was wrongfully advised by her lawyer to plead guilty to a felony. In 2016 her immigration case for having a felony for identity theft was denied. In 2017 when her case was denied the real nightmare began for Ingrid and her family. She was left with few choices and just to top it all, Donald Trump had won the election. Thus, Ingrid and her family made the tough decision to take refuge at the Mountain View Friends Church, a Quaker church, in Denver, Colorado where she lived for 6 months. Ingrid was granted a legal stay for 5 months to appear in court without fear. The judge denied turning over her conviction despite acknowledging the attorney’s error. During that time she sought a pardon from Governor John Hickenlooper, but he denied her request.

Ingrid was left with no choice and decided to continue to fight for justice. She re-entered
Sanctuary, this time at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins. She later moved to Boulder, Colorado to be closer to her children. During this time the authorities were not in favor of Ingrid. They required her to wear an ankle monitor despite living in a sanctuary church. The father of her children Eliseo Jurado was followed and arrested primarily because he was Ingrid’s husband and held in the infamous Aurora detention center until a judge corrected the situation. In 2018, Ingrid and her community began to work on the No Mas Chuecos campaign to educate people about the dangers of buying fake papers, or “Chuecos,” as well as the systemic reasons that cause people to have to make that decision. In 2019, Ingrid’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth was born. She gave birth to her in a small room at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, due to the fact that she could not leave the Church because of her legal status. This birth was at great risk. Ingrid had received C-Sections with her two boys and that was not going to be the case with Elizabeth. A couple weeks after the birth of her daughter, Ingrid received a surprise visit from Congressman Joe Neguse and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. Ingrid made the bold decision to continue to fight and that same year she was able to obtain a pardon from Colorado Governor Jared Polis. Ingrid and her family lived in Sanctuary for a total of 5 years!

In October of 2021 Ingrid, with the help of Congressman Neguse was granted a Stay of Removal for a year, allowing Ingrid and her family the right to live her life without the fear of being deported. Ingrid and her three children moved into their own home where they get to taste a bit of freedom. They remain in that home as Ingrid waits to be granted a work permit and a renewal of the Stay of Removal. Ingrid’s fight is nowhere near over. She continues to fight for a fix that will grant her freedom permanently. Ingrid belongs here!

Edith Espinal Moreno

Edith Espinal Moreno lived in sanctuary at Columbus Mennonite Church from October of 2017 until February 2021. Since then she has been at home with her husband and three children: Isidro, Brandow and Stephanie. She remains under the supervision of ICE and must report to the local ICE office periodically. Edith now has her work permit and continues to work with her attorney to find a way to obtain a visa that would allow her permanent legal status.

Edith, who was born in Mexico, first came to the United States with her father when she was sixteen. In 2013 Edith was granted parole to enter the US and seek asylum. For the following four years, Edith appeared at her asylum hearings in Cleveland, Ohio as well as regular ICE check-ins, usually accompanied by volunteers.

In 2015, Edith received her final order of removal after an immigration judge failed to grant Edith’s asylum application. Edith went into sanctuary to keep her family together as she moved to reopen her asylum case. Edith’s oldest son Isidro filed a petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for her to become a legal resident as soon as he turned 21 years old. However, due to our broken immigration system Edith is not able to adjust status through his US Citizenship.

In February of 2019, the Columbus City Council passed a symbolic resolution in support of Edith after she actively organized with members of her community to ask for support from local and national politicians. Unfortunately, Ruben Castilla Herrera, one of the lead organizers coordinating local efforts for Edith’s campaign passed away unexpectedly. Amid the grief and heartache, Edith has continued to fight to reopen her case.

Unfortunately, in May 2019, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied Edith’s Motion to Reopen her asylum case. Edith’s attorney then filed a notice of appeal with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is currently pending. Only a few weeks later, Edith received a notice from DHS letting her know that the Department intended to fine her in the amount of $497,777. Even though the fine has been rescinded, much uncertainty remains as Edith and her family continue their search for justice with our broken immigration system.

Rosa Gutirrez López

Rosa Gutiérrez López came to the U.S. in 2005 from El Salvador. Rosa established a family in the U.S. including becoming a mother. Rosa entered sanctuary at a church in Maryland in December 2018 after a judge in Texas denied her asylum claim. Her three school aged children joined her six months later. While in sanctuary she was required to wear an ankle monitor which had been mandated since May 2017 during the previous administration. It caused her significant pain. In June 2020, Rosa was granted a stay of removal for 60 days and was the only sanctuary leader required to pay a $5000 bond at the time the stay was granted. Her stay was initially extended to one year. She moved into the community, at the height of the pandemic, a few months later. It took five months for Rosa to receive her work permit, but it finally arrived in November 2020. She is currently employed full time as a prep cook and baker and is working hard to support her children who all attend local schools and are thriving, including her special needs son. Without the protection that citizenship brings, Rosa lives in fear of having to return to sanctuary or worse. She seeks the security and dignity of U.S. citizenship and the continued opportunity to live her life with her family united and without the fear that caused her to flee El Salvador so many years ago.

Francisca Lino

Francisca Lino came to this country in 1999. She had two small children and wanted to give them a better life since their father had abandoned the family. She was detained at the border because she was told by those who were helping her that she had to use a tourist visa that was not hers. Francisca refused to do that. She was then told that if she did not use it, they would ensure that she did not cross there.  As a result, Francisca was deported at the border, but she crossed again after a year.  In the United States, Francisca met her current husband who is a U.S. citizen. She had three daughters with him. With legal help, they obtained citizenship status for Francisca’s two Mexico-born children.  As a result, all five children are U.S. citizens. However, when Francisca went to her final interview for her residency, the deportation officer arrested her, and put her into deportation proceedings. At that time, her last two daughters, who are twins, were in the hospital with pneumonia. ICE gave Francisca extensions for that reason. Later, her pastors from the United Methodist Church sought help for her from Congressman Luis Gutierrez. He filed a private bill for Francisca and was successful in renewing it for 12 years. Francisca had an Order of Supervision when Donald Trump became president.  But then everything fell apart for her because under the Trump administration she could no longer get extensions. That’s why she took sanctuary for 4 years. Right now, Francisca is back in supervision but doesn’t know if she will have a chance for a path to citizenship.  Her five children and her husband are U.S. citizens. She needs to be in the United States for them and she does not want to return to Mexico because of all the violence and because of her family having been extorted.  She has a missing brother-in-law, which is another reason why she is very afraid to return to Zacatecas, Mexico.

María Merida

María Merida came to the United States from Guatemala in 1994. She has worked and paid taxes since 2000. Her husband and her oldest son were deported several years ago. María came into sanctuary in early 2018 to avoid being separated from her three remaining sons who are all U.S. citizens, and two who were still in high school. Maria remained in church sanctuary for 39 months. She is hoping for an extension of her stay of deportation in order to continue to work on her case to remain in the U.S. legally.

Lucio Pérez Ortiz

Lucio Pérez Ortiz came to the U.S. as a 17-year-old new father from an indigenous agricultural town in Guatemala that had been traumatized by the civil war. He moved to Delaware where he worked in chicken processing. His wife joined him in 2001 and his eldest son Edvin in 2015. Dora and Lucio had three more children, all U.S. citizens, and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts in 2008. In 2011, Lucio and Dora took the family to a Dunkin Donuts in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked as a landscaper. After they both went inside to purchase drinks and the children waited in the car, Dora and Lucio were arrested for child abandonment. Though the charges were immediately dropped, Lucio’s case was referred to ICE.

Lucio applied for cancellation of removal based on his ten years in the U.S., his U.S. citizen children and his clean criminal record. His young lawyer was very inattentive to the case and did not obtain sufficient evidence to demonstrate continuous ten year presence in the U.S. She assured Lucio and Dora that the 3 U.S.-born children’s birth certificates would be sufficient evidence. However, at his 2012 trial Lucio was denied cancellation of removal due to inadequate proof of his continuous presence, especially for the period before the birth of his son Tony in September 2002. During the trial, the judge took the case paperwork into his hands and ripped it in half. Lucio’s lawyer appealed the case but then discontinued contact with the family, and the appeal was denied. With a new lawyer, Lucio submitted successful Stays of Removal each year from 2013-2017. In 2017 Lucio’s stay was denied, and his lawyer submitted a Motion to Reopen the case. However, Lucio was ordered to purchase a ticket to Guatemala and was placed on an ankle monitor.

Though Lucio attempted to win a Stay of Removal with new legal counsel before the deadline of the airplane ticket, it was unsuccessful. Lucio entered Sanctuary at First Church Amherst in October 2017. Lucio’s lawyer continued to fight for his Motion to Reopen, but it was denied in April 2018. In the summer of 2018, following the Pereira vs. Sessions Supreme Court decision, Lucio’s attorney submitted a second Motion to Reopen in October 2018. The motion was based on the argument that Tony’s birth certificate was 9.5 years before the court hearing and would have improved his proof of presence had Pereira been in place. In May 2019, the BIA denied Lucio’s case after the Supreme Court’s decision in Mendoza overrode the 10-year determination. Lucio’s case is being appealed to the 2nd Circuit based on the interpretation of Pereira and his attorney is seeking a Stay from the 2nd Court while we wait for the case to be heard.While in sanctuary, Lucio sees his family four times a week, despite the 30-mile distance between his home and the church. He teaches English classes, worships with both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking congregations, and is a valued member of the Amherst community. He has 1,100 letters of support that were submitted to immigration officials in the past, and over 500 volunteers support Lucio’s sanctuary effort through rides, accompaniment and meal support.

Lucio has been in the U.S. for two decades, contributing to his community and making the world a better place. It is our hope that he will be able to stay.

Alirio Palacios Gamez

In 2015, Alirio Palacios Gamez fled El Salvador. After a cruel journey to the United States, he was detained in Texas. He applied for asylum, but his application was denied in May 2017. Alirio fled El Salvador due to increasing violence targeting him and his family. “It was not my dream to leave the country,” he said. “I had a good life and sufficient work. But I experienced the violence my country suffers from and had to flee to save my life.”

Alirio entered the U.S. seeking asylum, was detained by ICE, and then sent to three detention centers from south Texas to New Jersey. He followed the U.S. Immigration legal process to apply for asylum, but the court system rejected his asylum pleas after initially facing a judge with a 96.5% denial rate. Since entering Sanctuary at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas more than five years ago Alirio has seen his health deteriorate, currently facing kidney and diabetes issues. While in sanctuary, Alirio had to be escorted to the doctor by sanctuary volunteers over six times. The best way for Alirio to get the medical care he needs is to walk out of the church free from the stress of a deportation order.

Due to the imminent threat of deportation, Alirio was forced to neglect his medical care, which is cruel and inhumane. Since winning his deferred action Alirio, has been able to attend his medical appointments, work for himself to provide for his family, and is temporarily no longer fearful that he will be removed from this country. The work permit that he received was a blessing for him but he knows all too well that the fight to remain in this country is far from over. Both Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett filed private bills on behalf of Alirio in 2019 and  resubmitted the private bill in January 2021.  When his work permit expires we will continue to fight for our representatives to help push a private bill for Alirio to make sure he remains in this country.

Hilda Veronica Ramirez Mendez and her son Ivan Juarez Ramirez

Hilda is an indigenous Guatemalan mother who has been in sanctuary with her 15-year-old son for six and a half years at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Her story and kind spirit have inspired the congregation and all of the Foundation for the Austin Sanctuary Network to take bold action in support of her. Hilda fled Guatemala fearing for her life at the hands of her son’s grandfather. “I’ve considered leaving my child here, by himself, even if I get deported,” Ramirez said, explaining that she wants a better life for her son, one that she is not able to provide for him in their rural town in Guatemala. Ramirez said there is no respect for the lives of women there. “I want him to be a different man,” she said. “I want him to respect women.” Hilda is willing to endure the hardships of sanctuary to give Ivan a brighter future.

Upon entering the U.S., Hilda presented herself to immigration authorities as an asylum seeker. Rather than receive help, she was bused to the for-profit Karnes City Family Detention Center where she and Ivan were incarcerated for 11 months. After courageously participating in a hunger strike, Hilda and Ivan were released from detention; however, Hilda was ordered to wear an ankle monitor for many more months of check-ins with immigration authorities.

Thus, both have felt a form of detention the whole time they have been in the U.S, which has significantly affected their mental health. Since entering sanctuary, Hilda has missed almost five of Ivan’s school years, his soccer games and meet-the-teacher nights, and she has been forced to be an absent mother because of her deportation order.

In 2019, DHS/ICE notified Hilda of its intent to fine her $303,620 after she spoke publicly about her unjust deportation. Her attorney filed an appeal and it was rescinded. In March 2020 she received an intent to fine her for $59,125, followed by another letter in November 2020 calling for payment. Once again her attorney filed an appeal. While a lawsuit was filed in January 2021, it took until April 2022 for the fine to be rescinded but she still suffers from the trauma caused by the fines and the unresolved lawsuit.

Both Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett filed private bills on behalf of Hilda and Ivan in 2019 resubmitted private bills in January 2021. Ivan has now been approved for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Visa, which puts him in the awkward position of his mom having a deportation order and him living in deep fear of his mom being deported and separated from him. In 2022 we received information that Ivan would be able to apply for his legal residency in this country but this leaves Hilda with no ability to stay with her child unless members of Congress can help her through a private bill so that she can remain in this country with her son.

Firelly Ríos

Firelly Rios came to the US in 2002 with her six-month old daughter seeking asylum due to persecution in her home country of Colombia, which would later result in the disappearance of her husband. She had complied with ICE check-ins since 2008 but in 2020, with only a month’s notice, ICE said she had to leave the country and her younger, US-born daughter behind. Firelly took sanctuary at the Main St. Congregational Church, with her daughter in January 2020.  She received her Stay of Removal in January 2021 but remained in sanctuary until June 2021 so that her daughter could finish out the school year in the same school.  Fortunately, she has had the continued support of her church.  She now has a driver’s license and is able to take her daughter to school and pick her up.  She hopes someday to be able to work again.  What will happen to her and her daughter in the future is still uncertain and worries Firelly every day.

Rosa Sabido

Rosa Sabido came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1987 and received approval for an application for permanent residency in 2006. She is completely bilingual and speaks English fluently as if she’s lived here forever. Since 2008, Rosa was granted stays of removal as she waited for her application to be processed. In 2017, ICE denied her request for a stay of removal. Her attorney advised that arriving at her regular ICE check-in could lead to her being arrested and detained. Rosa has been living in Sanctuary at the Mancos United Methodist Church since June of 2017. In Sanctuary, Rosa cooks, works on crafts and jewelry-making, and continues to build a community of support for all immigrants. Read more at

Juana Tobar Ortega

Juana Tobar Ortega is a mother of four and grandmother of three who lives in Asheboro, North Carolina and had worked as an upholstery sewer technician in High Point for 23 years. She arrived in 1992 from Guatemala, having been threatened by the armed combatants, and applied for political asylum status. She was denied in 1994, and then was offered a work permit while she appealed her status, which took six years.

In 1999 her eldest daughter in Guatemala suffered a life-threatening illness, and she left the country and returned without permission in order to be her caregiver. Her troubles began after re-entering the United States and 2 years later a deportation order was issued. ICE subsequently denied her appeal, and in 2011 took her into custody, then released her a week later. Since then she had reported to the Charlotte ICE office periodically for required check-ins until April of 2017, when the Trump administration took office. Instead of accepting her attorney’s plea for a stay of removal, ICE fitted her with a tracking device, and ordered her to prepare voluntary departure, telling her she had until May 31st to leave the country, potentially leaving her husband, kids, grandkids, uncles, and cousins behind.

After being told that she had to leave the country, Juana and her family were forced to make an impossible decision. Through the social justice organization, American Friends Service Committee of North Carolina, Juana’s oldest daughter Lesvi Molina Tobar connected with St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and brought her mother there to learn about the possibility of sanctuary. St. Barnabas church was immediately welcoming. A few months earlier, Reverend Randall Keeney and the vestry of St. Barnabas had decided that if someone needed sanctuary, they would fashion an apartment space in their fellowship building.

So, Juana and her family decided that she would move into St. Barnabas – about 80 km from the home she and her husband Carlos Valenzuela have shared – to avoid being deported from a country she has known for more than 25 years. Juana relocated her belongings to the small room in the cinderblock building that became both her refuge and at the same time, an isolating enclosure, as she is not allowed to work or travel.

Juana was the first person to publicly take sanctuary in North Carolina in the contemporary movement (prior to this wave of sanctuary cases, a movement had begun in the 1980s in Tucson, Arizona to shelter undocumented immigrants from deportation). Others took sanctuary after her, each seeking to avoid deportation.

Juana’s family and community took her situation very seriously. Many wrote letters, knocked on members of congress’s doors, and engaged in social action campaigns publicly requesting that their local legislators take steps to help Juana get her freedom and return home. All the requests and actions were continually ignored throughout the four years president Trump was in office. A total of 71 undocumented immigrants fled to churches after Trump’s harsh immigration crackdown.

After spending four years in sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, NC, Juana was finally granted a stay of removal in April, 2021. The decision stops department agents from following through with the deportation order. She was the last person in sanctuary in North Carolina granted to stay in the country since the Biden administration took office in January of 2021. Juana missed many important family events during those four years in sanctuary such as: the High School Graduation of her youngest son, Carlos Jr; youngest daughter, Jackeline Tobar’s college graduation and many birthdays and anniversaries.

While Juana recovered her freedom and was able to go back home with her family and was given a work authorization document for her to have a normal life; she is still under the eyes of ICE due to the fact that she still has to check-in every year. They will continue to renew her lawful status until they decide she needs to go or another administration decides otherwise. As the department of homeland security continues to monitor her, Juana will not have peace of mind until she is given the opportunity to apply for citizenship. Becoming a citizen would be the solution to this ongoing situation which gives her anxiety. Just to think about the fact that they could change their mind and be left with no legal status is nerve wracking for her and her family.

Miriam Vargas Rodriguez

Miriam Vargas Rodriguez came from Honduras to the US in 2005, and said,, “It was a decision because of safety and a terrible life. There is much violence in my country and no work. The gangs govern everything there. That is why someone would look to leave their country.” At a port of entry on the Texas border she legally declared her need for asylum and entered the US on a 6-month visa. She remained undocumented in Columbus, Ohio for 5 years. She had not received notice of her first court hearing and therefore was unable to appear before the immigration judge in Arlington, VA in February 2006. In 2013 an ICE agent appeared outside Miriam’s apartment where she was trying to enter with her terrified daughter (pregnant with her second daughter at the time). Miriam then filed a motion to reopen her proceedings with the immigration court, explaining that she never received notice of her hearing. However, in December 2013, an Immigration Judge in Cleveland denied the motion. After receiving the judge’s decision, Miriam filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Board dismissed Miriam’s appeal in April 2015.

With no other options, Miriam gratefully entered sanctuary with her two daughters at First English Lutheran Church on Columbus’s Near East side in July 2018. She filed a separate Motion to Reopen with the BIA. However, the Board again dismissed the appeal in February 2019 and Miriam remained in sanctuary at the church for another 2 years. Federal policy for deportation priorities shifted to undocumented, aggravated felons with a new administration in 2021. After an emotional meeting in February 2021 at the local ICE office Miriam was granted a Stay of Order of Deportation and an Order of Supervision. She was given permission to leave sanctuary with her family – her first taste of freedom in 2.5 years.

Miriam’s daughters endured the years of confinement with their mother, but as US born citizens, they were permitted to leave the church for school, doctor’s appointments, etc. Her younger daughter has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and Fragile X Syndrome which causes mild to severe intellectual disabilities. She has needed special medical and educational attention which Miriam has monitored but could not attend during her years of sanctuary. When asked what her life would be like if she returned to Honduras, Miriam replied “There would be constant fear and insecurity for me and my daughters. Also, there would be no work, lack of education for my daughters, lack of medical care especially for my younger daughter with her special needs.” She added that, “The only thing I am asking for is not to be separated from my daughters, from my children, from my family.” A deeply devoted mother, Miriam’s reasons for remaining in the US are entirely family-based as is true of most women in sanctuary.

Under her Order of Supervision Miriam is no longer a priority for deportation. She must check in at the local ICE office in person once a year. She has been granted a work visa and is working near her apartment. Currently, Miriam has no further avenues to pursue reopening of her case. Her path to citizenship remains uncertain and will require new federal legislation.