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Honduran woman fleeing violence takes sanctuary at Chapel Hill Church

4.17. 2018 Written By: Gordon Houser

Photo: Isaac Villegas, right, pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, and Xaris A. Martínez, left, pray with Rosa del Carmen Ortez-Cruz, center. Photo by Stef Bernal-Martínez.

This past weekend, Rosa del Carmen Ortez-Cruz of Greensboro, North Carolina, took sanctuary at the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, also the meeting site of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship (CHMF). The two congregations have joined to offer Ortez-Cruz sanctuary from deportation. She is the first person to be welcomed into public church sanctuary in Chapel Hill, the sixth in North Carolina, which has the most active congregational sanctuary cases of any state.

In an April 17 interview, Isaac Villegas, pastor of CHMF, said: “Our Scriptures tell us that if we see a sister or brother in need, we help, because God’s love lives inside of us. Rosa called me with a need, and we decided to open our lives to her.”

Xaris A. Martínez, a member of CHMF, said in an April 17 press release: “Our faith is nothing if we do not actively practice solidarity with those who are being denied justice. We commit to accompany Rosa and hope that other congregations in our state and throughout the nation will consider opening their doors and hearts to those most at risk in their communities.”

Mark Davidson, pastor of Church of Reconciliation (Presbyterian Church USA), announced the partnership with CHMF in offering sanctuary. “This is an act of conscience and resistance, to protect Rosa from the very real threat of deportation,” he said in the press release. “Our Christian faith calls us to welcome the stranger and to offer hospitality to those in need as if we are offering it to Christ.”

“I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be far from my children,” said Ortez-Cruz. “But I have no choice because going back to Honduras is not an option. If I go there, it could mean the end of my life. [Her former partner] said, ‘If you won’t be with me, you won’t be with anyone.’”

Ortez-Cruz came to the United States from Honduras in 2002, fleeing extreme domestic violence. She was stabbed multiple times by a former partner, spending over a month in the hospital at age 19. She is the mother of four children, three of whom are U.S. citizens.

According to an article by Julia Preston in Politico Magazine, “Women in an exodus from Central America since 2014 have succeeded in winning asylum or other protections in the United States as victims of a pandemic of domestic abuse in that region.” Now, however, “the Trump administration, determined to stop the stream of people to the border from Central America, is moving to curtail or close the legal avenues to protection for abused women,” writes Preston.

Ortez-Cruz does not want to return to Honduras for fear that her abuser will hurt or kill her. Despite the fact that immigration courts recognized that she fled Honduras to save her life, the courts ultimately denied her case.

Ortez-Cruz’s supporters are calling on ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to allow her to stay in the United States, where she can live safely, and for members of Congress to use their influence to pressure ICE to keep her safe.

“We’re calling for action from our elected officials but we also know we cannot sit by and wait for politicians to act while unjust immigration policies tear apart our communities,” said Lori Fernald Khamala, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s NC Immigrant Rights Program, in the press release. “That’s why we are also calling on churches and other places of worship throughout the state to join us in pledging to offer sanctuary to all who need it.”

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