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Triad faith leaders rally around immigrants


fih_logoAbout two dozen clergy and faith leaders from throughout the Triad gathered at FaithAction International House (FAIH) in Greensboro on May 30 to speak out against recent anti-immigration efforts and to take action regarding the safety and welfare of immigrants.

Faith-based leaders from Greensboro, Kernersville, High Point and Winston Salem addressed the inhumane treatment and separation of immigrant families. The leaders also shared the many ways they are prepared to serve, love and protect the community. The group of clergy asserted that several people were recently aggressively questioned, chained, and detained by ICE officers (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in the Triad. Such actions have instilled fear and uncertainty in many immigrant communities.

“We come together under the shared values of the inherent dignity of all human beings, welcoming and loving our neighbors as ourselves, and a belief that there is a much better way forward for our cities, state, and nation,” said David Fraccaro, executive director of FAIH.

Rev. Maria Teresa Jones of Wentz Memorial United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem said her congregation will continue to support the immigrant community by sharing a space of worship, supporting local Latino businesses and continuing to build relationships to assist the community’s newest neighbors in getting what they need to survive.

“We have a higher call than state law that we are accountable to,” said Jones. “We are called to care for the stranger among us. We have come together as people of faith.”

Rev. Liam Hooper, founder of Ministries Beyond Welcome at Parkway United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem noted that working with interfaith efforts and stranger to neighbor initiatives is a step in developing a more inclusive society.

“As an ordained minister and transgender man, I understand that my community is not just the LGBT community, my community is not just the White community, but the human community and we are all responsible for one another,” said Hooper.

A group of clergy also met with ICE officials on May 31 to discuss deportation policies and to share concerns and fears expressed by immigrants in the Triad.

“As advocates for the immigrant community, we are trying to find out what policies or discretion ICE agents have, and trying to understand what’s going on with these Executive Orders,” said Rev. Kelly Carpenter, pastor of Green Street Church in Winston-Salem.

Under the former Obama administration, ICE agents were instructed that undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes would take priority for deportation. Now, under the Trump administration, enforcement officials have been directed to seek the deportation of anyone in the country illegally.

In another step, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro has provided Juana Luz Tobar Ortega sanctuary at the church, after she was ordered by ICE officials to self-deport by May 31. Originally from Guatemala, Ortega has been a resident of Asheboro since 1993, where she takes care of her children and grandchildren and has worked at the same High Point textile company, Sangar Enterprises, for the past eight years. Her husband is a U.S. citizen as well as two of her children- one who is fifteen years old— two DACA recipient children and two nine-year-old grandchildren.

On May 31, Ortega’s family and supporters delivered a petition calling on ICE to stop her deportation with more than 1,700 signatures to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. The group requested that Tillis personally intervene on Ortega’s behalf to halt her deportation. According to clergy, she will be the first person in the state to enter sanctuary. Clergy leaders and supporters are unsure whether ICE officers will enter the church and forcibly remove her.

“There’s absolutely no reason for this woman to be torn away from her family and her community. She’s a child of God and we will give her shelter until ICE drops her deportation order” said Rev. Randall Keeney, vicar of St. Barnabas. “When we invite new people into our lives we become enriched, better, and more of what God intends us to be.”

According to Ortega’s eldest daughter, Lesvi Molina, her mother has spent almost $17,000 over the last 23 years trying to obtain permanent residency status.

“We’re only asking them to continue to grant her a stay of removal, as ICE has done for the past six years,” said Molina. “We would like there to be a path for her to get permanent residency, but ICE just seems to want to punish, not to work with us.”