Immigrant taking sanctuary at Chapel Hill church among many nationwide facing hefty fines

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – Immigrants who have taken sanctuary in churches in central North Carolina and around the country are now being fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has cracked down on immigration, some places of worship have opened their doors. People are staying “in sanctuary,” hoping to not be detained and deported while their case makes its way through the courts.

That includes Rosa Ortez Cruz, who lives within the confines of this church in Chapel Hill. 

“They’re amazingly hopeful, even after all this time, because, for starters, they are still in the United States, and so that is a reason to hope,”
said Jennifer Copeland with the North Carolina Council of Churches.

That remains true, even after Cruz received a fine from ICE for more than $314,000. It totals a daily fine for failing or refusing to show up for deportation. Copeland said no one will be able to pay such a bill and believes it’s designed to scare immigrants away from churches willing to take them in.

“Of course, the second group of people would be faith communities who might be now scared away from offering sanctuary because they think they might somehow be complicit in helping to pay those fines,” she said.

Rosa Ortez Cruz

Copeland added that people like Rosa want to return to their families and their jobs and continue to pay taxes in the U.S.

“She had no idea what it was. She’d never seen anything like this. So yeah, it was sent by ICE via certified mail, and she texted me immediately. ‘You have to come check this out. What’s going on here?'” Issac Villegas recalled.

Villegas is the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship where Rosa is living.

“Just the absurdity of it. It feels like it’s one thing after another that she’s been having to deal with in trying to fight this asylum case to stay in this country with her kids so it just feels absurd,” he said. 

Rosa fled Honduras 15 years ago and has three children who are American citizens.

“It, of course, saddens me, disappoints me. On my best days, I’m a good patriot and think we’re better than this,” Copeland said. “That, in fact, all of us came here from somewhere else. Which is (a) drum we continue to beat over and over again. We understand there needs to be rules for immigration, there needs to be ways to enter the country legally but, everyone agrees the system we have now is broken.”

ICE released the following statement:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initially encountered unlawfully present Honduran national Rosa Ortez-Cruz in October 2012 when ICE lodged a detainer for her following her arrest in Guilford County, North Carolina, on felony assault by strangulation and child abuse charges. She was convicted of assault and child abuse charges in May 2013. Following her release from state criminal custody, ICE arrested her on immigration violations in September 2013 and subsequently released her on bond after placing her into removal proceedings before the federal immigration courts. A federal immigration judge ordered Ms. Ortez-Cruz removed from the U.S. to Honduras in April 2017, and her appeal of that order was denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals in March 2018.”

“Ms. Ortez-Cruz has received all appropriate process before the federal immigration courts and is subject to removal from the United States in accordance with federal law and judicial order.”

“The Immigration and Nationality Act grants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the authority to impose civil fines on aliens who have been ordered removed or granted voluntary departure and fail to depart the United States. Aliens who willfully refuse to meet the obligations of an order issued by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review may receive a Notice of Intention to Fine (NIFs), and are subsequently provided a 30-day period to respond to the notice before a formal decision whether to issue a fine is made. ICE is committed to using various enforcement methods – including arrest; detention; technological monitoring; and financial penalties – to enforce U.S. immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges.”

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