Ortez-Cruz came to the U.S. in 2002 with her oldest son after she was stabbed by a former partner multiple times. She said she nearly died, and she had to have her abdomen reconstructed. She also said her attacker threatened to kill her if she returned.
The now-mother of four relocated to Greensboro in 2007 with her children, ages 19, 13, 9 and 7. Three of her children are U.S. citizens.
“I’m sad and I miss my family,” Ortez-Cruz said through a translator. “I have no choice but to stay here.”
Honduras is one of the most dangerous places for women in the world. Honduras’ Center for Women’s Rights reported there were 285 violent deaths of women in 2017. Ortez-Cruz said she fears her partner will kill her, and she will have no protection.
Immigration courts denied Ortez-Cruz’s case to stay in the U.S. and ordered she leave the country. Ortez-Cruz appealed the decision, which is now pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ortez-Cruz’s entered into sanctuary shortly after ICE raids began in Orange County. An ICE spokesperson said ICE detained up to 25 people in the raids.
Chapel Hill is not technically a registered sanctuary city, but the town has a community value of inclusivity. Both the town and Chapel Hill police do not actively take part in ICE activities.
The Church of Reconciliation identified itself as a sanctuary church after discussing the issue for nearly a year. It was connected with Ortez-Cruz in late March through the Greensboro-based American Friends Service Committee.
Although sanctuary is not a long-term solution, Ortez-Cruz is prepared to stay at the church until 2019, when her appeal will likely be decided. If Ortez-Cruz were to lose her appeal, Davidson said the church is prepared to host her for as long as possible.
“In reality, the risks and the sacrifices that we’ve made are minimal compared to the ones that our Latino neighbors face all the time,” Davidson said. “The long term solution is legal, and it will be decided in the courts. We’re organizing with other churches and other concerned citizens throughout the state and the nation to challenge these unjust laws.”
Rubi Franco, a UNC student who visits Ortez-Cruz, said although sanctuary is protecting Ortez-Cruz, it is not an ideal situation.
“What’s hardest for her, from what she told me, is she’s not used to being inside, she’s not used to not being able to go outside or do as she wishes to do,” Franco said. “Obviously a church is a much better environment than an ICE jail cell or a detention center, but nonetheless she still feels trapped to an extent, even though she’s so grateful.”
The Church of Reconciliation has hosted training sessions for immigrant communities on their rights and what they should do in case of an ICE raid. Davidson said the coalition of churches supporting Ortez-Cruz will continue to fight policies that target both immigrant and minority communities.
“It’s the devaluing of brown lives under cover of the law,” Davidson said about immigration policies. “It’s racist. We have to fight it.”