ICE denies stay of deportation for female immigrant seeking sanctuary at Cleveland Heights church

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has denied a deportation stay request for a female immigrant who had sought sanctuary at a church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and had been staying there since September.

(REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton)A demonstrator holds a sign during a rally at the City College of New York (CCNY) to protest the immigration and deportation policies of the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., March 9, 2017.

ICE had been trying to deport Leonor Garcia for months but told News 5 Cleveland that it would try not to do anything in "sensitive areas" like the church she had sought refuge in. On Nov. 20, Pastor John Lentz of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church announced that his application for her deportation stay was denied because she was not present when the papers were submitted.

"I am horrified and sorry to report that they have not accepted the application for a stay of removal," said Pastor Lentz. "I asked if he could give me assurance that if Leonor came with me to present this application, she would not be detained, and he said 'no' I can't give you that assurance."

"It's a good thing they're called ICE because that's what they are. This is an ice wall of inhuman injustice," the pastor added.

Since ICE increased its arrests by 40 percent under the current administration, more than two dozen illegal immigrants have chosen to seek sanctuary at churches to avoid deportation. One of them was Amanda Morales, who had been living in Holyrood Episcopal Church in Manhattan since August, The Associated Press reported.

Morales has not left the New York church for more than two months now for fear of being arrested if she does. She does not want to part with her three children, who are American citizens, and because of this, she does not want to return to her home country.

Like Morales, there have been at least 50 known cases of illegal immigrants seeking refuge in churches since 2014, according to Church World Service coordinator Rev. Noel Anderson. Of that figure, 30 did so when U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to take a tougher stance on immigration in January, and 18 of these cases led to the cancellation of their deportation orders.