Exclusive: Five Immigrants Briefly Leave Sanctuary to Learn How to Organize

August 23, 2018

Not all of the collective's members could be in Durham for the three-day gathering, but those in attendance told Rewire.News that what they were learning would benefit all people in sanctuary—especially if they are able to get out. 

In the basement of CityWell Church in Durham, North Carolina, five undocumented immigrants, all part of a new nationwide collective, met in person for dinner. Up until then, they had only ever spoken on the phone or through video calls, but the August 10 dinner wasn’t just about sharing a bite. All five are facing deportation and, while on respite from sanctuary, risked detainment to come together and learn how to organize. It was an unprecedented move, and a historic one.

Hilda Ramirez came from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, where she has been forced to take sanctuary twice. Edith Espinal came from Clintonville, Ohio’s Columbus Mennonite Church, where she has been detained since October 2017. Samuel Oliver-Bruno has been detained since December 2017 in CityWell, which hosted much of the gathering. Pastor Jose Chicas, who has been detained in Durham’s nearby School for Conversion, was also there with his wife, Sandra Marquina, who for 13 months has been fiercely fighting for her husband’s release. Juana Luz Tobar Ortega almost didn’t come, said her oldest daughter Lesvi Molina, who spent the weekend at the meeting with her mother. Ortega was the first person to enter sanctuary in the state of North Carolina, and she has remained in Greensboro’s St. Barnabas Episcopal Church since May 2017.

“The night before, she thought about not coming,” Molina told Rewire.News at the meeting. “She had never left sanctuary before and this was a really hard decision for her. I don’t want anyone to think this was easy. But she heard of the others coming from Ohio and Texas, and she decided to do it. She needed to do this for her own sake because she knows nobody can push her case forward but her.”