Stay of deportation request denied for woman living in Cleveland Heights church

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio - "It's a good thing they're called ICE because that's what they are. This is an ice wall of inhuman injustice."

Those were words Pastor John Lentz had Monday as his church's deportation stay request was denied. 

Forest Hill Presbyterian Church is providing sanctuary for a woman facing deportation orders. Leonor Garcia has been living there since September.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been in the process of deporting Garcia for months but the agency has also told News 5 its agents will avoid enforcement activity in "sensitive areas." 

That's why they've been avoiding the church she has been living in. 

On Monday, Pastor Lentz spoke to church members and supporters after ICE rejected a stay application for Garcia. 

"I am horrified and sorry to report that they have not accepted the application for a stay of removal," he said. 

Pastor Lentz said his application was denied because Garcia wasn't there with him to submit it. 

"I asked if he could give me assurance that if Leonor came with me to present this application, she would not be detained," said Pastor Lentz, "and he said 'no' I can't give you that assurance." 

When Garcia moved into the church in September, she said deportation issues started years ago but she wouldn't elaborate. 

Pastor Lentz said they're in this for the long haul and she will continue living under sanctuary in the church. 

But can a church legally provide sanctuary from the law? 

It depends on the definition of sanctuary city and church.

"Immigration have not been storming churches to deport people, but if they do? Fun case for the State of Ohio," said immigration attorney and activist Margaret Wong. 

ICE sent News 5 the following statement:

Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances. The locations specified in the guidance include schools, places of worship, and hospitals.

 

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