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Rosa's Home: Safe Zone from ICE in House of Worship



by: Rosa's Home: Safe Zone from ICE in House of Worship,

CHAPEL HILL — “Sanctuary is the call of the gospel to us, the way Christ calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves," said Pastor Isaac Villegas. “The Tora also calls us to welcome foreigners, strangers and immigrants.” Villegas is the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. The congregation is housed on the same grounds as the Church of Reconciliation on North Elliot Road in Chapel Hill, where Rosa Del Carmen Ortez-Cruz, 37, now lives. A resident of North Carolina for 11 years, Ortez-Cruz lives in the Church of Reconciliation under sanctuary from ICE agents who would seek to return her to Honduras, the homeland she fled out of fear of an ex-husband and his gang connections. “When I tried to leave, he said, 'If I can't have you, nobody can,' as he stabbed me repeatedly in my abdomen, my intestines,” Ortez-Cruz said as she put down her jewelry-making tools and lifted her shirt. She showed scars all over her stomach. She describes her ex-husband’s weapon as a large “long knife.” She pulled up her sleeves and showed another large scar on her arm. “When he got me on the ground, he tried to stab me in the chest, and [in the struggle] got my arm instead,” Ortez-Cruz said, lifting her severely scarred arm. Rosa Del Carmen Ortez-Cruz

Surrounded by her different crafts projects, Ortez-Cruz tells her story. Ortez-Cruz was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in Central America. She and her six siblings were supported by their mother, a single parent who worked at a shrimp packing company with no other support. Rosa later found what she thought was love, married and had a beautiful baby boy. Then the abuse began. She barely survived the worst, the attack with the long knife, and spent a month in the hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In 2002, she fled to the United States while her young son stayed with her mother. The child came to the United States later with Ortez-Cruz's sister. They lived in Washington D.C., then Virginia before moving to Greensboro in 2007. “I had a friend who lived in North Carolina, and they said that it was easier to live here with the cost of living,” said Ortez-Cruz. In America, she found stability and safety. She now has four children, a husband and a job at a water filter plant in Greensboro. All of that changed in March, when she was marked for deportation. For Rosa, a visit from Homeland Security's ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents could mean saying goodbye to her whole life — her job, her new country, her home, her husband and even her children — and a one-way trip back to a country where a man who threatened to kill her resides. While it may be easy for some Americans may take their country for granted, for Roza Ortez-Cruz it is a world teetering on the edge. Now, what stands in the way of the demolition of Ortez-Cruz's life are Americans who believe their God commands them to protect Rosa and others like her whose lives hang in the balance. Hope Shand is a volunteer host with Church of the Reconciliation. She stands guard in the volunteers’ makeshift quarters within the church, protecting Rosa and providing company for her. Volunteers take four-hour shifts during the day, and others take eight-hour shifts during the night. Still others donate money and time in other ways. Ortez-Cruz makes a list of her needs, and volunteers provide supplies. She spends a lot of her time in the kitchen cooking. She also knits and makes jewelry. The churches have converted office space into a bedroom, and also put aside a bath and closet for he ruse. Rosa may roam the grounds, but must never leave them. Sanctuary is granted only on the church property. Her new husband and all four children, ages 19, 13, 9 and 7, still live in Greensboro, where they are in school. They come to visit when they can. Rosa did not want her family members named in order to help protect them. “It is hard,” said Ortez-Cruz. “I miss my job, and I miss my family, my children,” she said. “When they come to see me, it is very difficult to see them leave. She has run out of jewelry-making supplies and, other than volunteers, she does not get many visitors. “I have a lawyer, and my case is being appealed,” Ortez-Cruz added as she straightened her crochet work. The appeal could take anywhere from nine months to a year. The two churches notified ICE when Rosa first arrived for sanctuary, but have yet to get a response. “We are invoking the historic principle of sanctuary,” said Pastor Mark Davidson of the Church of Reconciliation. “It goes back to the ancient Hebrews, in the times of the Old Testament, when they offered a safe zone in their cities. It was used in the Middle Ages by the Christian churches as a refuge during times of war and violence, and grows out of the Biblical mandate to welcome a stranger or practice radical hospitality.” There have been more than 100 volunteers coordinated among 12 churches to make this effort run smoothly. Rosa's husband's family is also helping. For four children to be suddenly without a mother leaves a gaping need. “Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, Mennonites and others not affiliated with any churches are reaching out and helping,” said Davidson. They see their willingness to open their hearts and worship space to her as part of their mission of following Christ. “I am very grateful for all the support, and I hope the attention helps my case,” Ortez-Cruz continued, “but I have no idea how long I will be here. But I hope to God it won’t be too long.”

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