Our First “Sanctuary” Guest
Leonor, a woman from the Akron area, was facing imminent deportation. She had been in the US for over 20 years, was married, worked, and paid taxes. Leonor was a homeowner with no criminal record and had four US-born children ranging in age from four to twenty. Her eldest daughter was studying to be an ultrasound technician.
Years before, Leonor had been given an order of deportation after a fraudulent attorney submitted a poorly prepared application for a green card which was the first step toward a path to citizenship. She was given a “stay of removal” in 2011 which allowed her to stay and work in this country. This immigration status was renewed annually at her check-ins with immigration. In 2017 when she reported for her annual check-in, immigration officials, without warning, put a GPS ankle monitor on her and told her she must leave the country by September of that year.
In September, Leonor moved into Forest Hill Church and for nearly a year, she could not leave the building. Church members shopped for her and delivered groceries to her at the church and occasionallly spent the night at the church with her.
In June 2018, she received word that her UVisa application had been approved but not issued.
Eager to be with her family and caring for them, she quietly returned to living in her home in Akron. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was not yet recognizing that her UVisa application was approved and they continued to threaten to deport her.
Finally, in October 2019, ICE recognized the UVisa approval, and Leonor was allowed to obtain a work permit, renew her driver’s license and move about freely. Six years since she first obtained Sanctuary at FHC, she continues to wait for the UVisa to be issued. An enormous backlog of these applications exists and only a limited number are issued every year, despite the fact that they are all approved. Once the UVisa is physically issued, Leonor can begin a process to apply for US citizenship. In the interim, Leonor continues to pray that her UVisa will be issued in time for her to travel to Mexico to visit her mother whose health is declining.
Currently, Leonor is happy to be in Akron with all her family. Her two youngest sons have grown so much since she first came to FHC; one is now nine-years-old and the other is 12. Leonor frequently expresses how grateful she is to Forest Hill Church for all the support provided to her. She and her family visit on Sunday mornings from time to time and welcome visits to their home in Akron.
Our Forest Hill community trusts that the day will come when Leonor’s UVisa is issued, and we can throw a big celebration party with her and her family.