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Immigrant Family Receives Sanctuary in a Church Days Before Deportation

photo of Leonora Garcia
Leonora Garcia has been living in the United States without documentation for at least 20 years.

A Mexican family scheduled to be deported on Thursday has been granted sanctuary by a suburban Cleveland church.  Leonora Garcia and her four American-born children are now living in an apartment above the church.

“I want to stay here for my family, because I love my family," Garcia said, briefly addressing a small crowd on the steps of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church.

Garcia was living and working in Akron as an undocumented immigrant since 2004. Then Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE,  told her she would have to be deported. Garcia's husband was deported in 2011. Now she’s moved into a small apartment above the church in Cleveland Heights.

Pastor John Lentz isn't sure whether his congregation will be able to take in more families in the future, but he expressed hope that other faith communities would follow their example.

“My hope is that other faith communities will rise up … (and) that other churches and synagogues and mosques and other houses of worship will claim their historic right to protect people who claim sanctuary," Lentz said.

Lentz also had a pointed message for immigration law enforcement.

“I say this respectfully, but I don’t think it’s in their self interest to have the optics of breaking into a church," Lentz said. Lentz also said church volunteers have been advised to contact him and the church's legal counsel if confronted by immigration law enforcement.

Garcia will be allowed to live above the church until her immigration status is resolved.