ICE Drops Fines Against Illegal Immigrants Taking Sanctuary in Churches

Rosa Ortez-Cruz has been in santuary at the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, N.C., since April 2018. Photo by Stef Bernal Martinez

The message Pastor Isaac Villegas got on his cell phone earlier this week was short and sweet.

“Un problema menos,” texted Rosa del Carmen Ortez-Cruz, a mother of four living in sanctuary at a Presbyterian church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“One less problem.”

She was referring to a letter her lawyer received informing her that the $300,000 in fines she owed the government for overstaying her deportation order had been dropped.

Ortez-Cruz was one of nine immigrants taking refuge in sanctuary churches across the country who received letters from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in July, fining them hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties for disobeying orders to leave the country.

“From the beginning, it felt like an absurdity,” said Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, which, along with The Church of Reconciliation, a Presbyterian Church (USA), offered her refuge from immediate deportation last year because she is afraid of returning to Honduras.

Ortez-Cruz crossed into the United States in 2002, after her domestic partner, the father of her son, stabbed her multiple times.

Edith Espinal, a Mexican national who took sanctuary in a Columbus, Ohio, Mennonite church, also learned that her $497,777 fine has been cancelled.

ICE spokesman Richard A. Rocha confirmed that his office has dropped the fines for eight of the nine undocumented immigrants.

“ICE will pursue enforcement of these removal orders using any and all available means, and has reserved the right to reassess fines in these cases,” Rocha said in an email.

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Source: Religion News Service