Winston-Salem mother takes sanctuary from deportation in Greensboro church

Winston-Salem Sanctuary City Coalition Photo- Minerva Cisneros Garcia speaks a at press conference last week at Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro, announcing that she has taken sanctuary there.

Winston-Salem mother takes sanctuary from deportation in Greensboro church
July 06
02:00 2017

A local mother facing deportation became the second woman in the state to seek sanctuary in a church last week.

Minerva Cisneros Garcia, who goes by the last name Cisneros, accepted an offer of sanctuary from Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro and moved into the church with her two youngest sons, Mateo, 3, and Antonio, 7, who are American citizens by birth.

This is just a month after Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, a grandmother who lived in Asheboro, sought refuge at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, which is also in Greensboro. Neither woman has a criminal record.

The move is a huge disruption for the family. Arrangements are being made for Antonio to attend school if the family is still there in the fall. It also separates Cisneros from her oldest son, 21-year-old  Eduardo, who is blind and lived with her in Winston-Salem. He is staying with family and friends in Winston-Salem so he can continue working at IFB Solutions. He is protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Though he plans to regularly visit her, Eduardo said during a press conference last Thursday, he will miss his mother.

Congregational Pastor Julie Peeples said that the church had considered offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants more than a year ago, but those talks renewed in January as the Trump administration widened deportation priorities to those without criminal records and fear became heightened in immigrant communities. She said that Cisneros was hesitant at first but, as it grew close to the June 30 deadline she’d been given to leave the country, she decided sanctuary was the best thing for her family. Peeples said the church will let them stay as long as needed.

“It will end when Minerva can once again have her boys altogether in her home,” said Peeples.

Legally U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can raid any building with a warrant but there is currently a policy against raiding houses of worship, schools and health centers unless it’s absolutely necessary. Currently there are about 20 cases nationally of churches providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Faith leaders in Winston-Salem have discussed giving sanctuary to families, but aren’t ready to do so yet. It takes a lot to turn a church into a living space. Congregational UCC, which has about 200 active members, turned two classrooms on its lower floor into a living space for the family with a bedroom with three beds and a living area with a dining room table, sofa, TV and kitchen. The church even installed a shower in a restroom for them. The kids can also play on the church playground. There’s a volunteer with them at all hours to get them what they need, since Cisneros can’t leave the church, and to answer the door in case anyone comes to the church.

Cisneros came to Winston-Salem from Mexico in 2000, looking for services and opportunities for Eduardo that weren’t in their native Mexico.  ICE has been granting her a routine stay from removal until recently. 

Cisneros’ story has gotten support from many, including numerous local faith leaders and elected officials. A petition to grant her a stay has garnered more than 13,000 signatures on Supporters lobbied ICE and Sens. Richard and Thom Tillis to grant her a stay.

That’s an effort that will continue, said Rev. Craig Schaub of Parkway UCC in Winston-Salem.

“Sanctuary is just one dimension of that support,” he said. “We’ll continue to urge people to sign the petition we have on We’ll continue to find ways to support this family in appealing to officials. All that work continues at this point.”

Kim Porter, one of the many activists that’s championed Cisneros, said she believes the broad community support for her will win out in the end. Porter said Cisneros has approached the situation with bravery and dignity that’s inspired many.

“Minerva inspires me every day,” said Porter.

Fundraising to support the family’s living expenses and its legal efforts to get Cisneros a stay are still ongoing. A crowdfunding page on set up by Parkway UCC called “Stop Deportation of Mother of Three – Minerva Garcia” will be up at least through the end of July.

Sanctuary in a church had hopeful outcomes for two undocumented immigrants in Colorado who were granted stays after Colorado Democrats in Congress took action.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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