ASHEBORO, N.C. – Many people spend part of their Christmas in a place of worship, but one Asheboro grandmother can't leave a Triad church if she wants to stay in the country.
At first, the Ortega family Christmas looks like any other celebration. There's laughter, games, and presents.
But Juana Ortega is spending this Christmas in sanctuary.
"It’s hard knowing that everyone out there is having a great time, getting their shopping down, getting everything they need, but mom can’t," said Lesvi Molina, Juana's daughter.
Juana took sanctuary at St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church in May. and she hasn't left since.
The rest of her family still lives in Asheboro. Her kids, husband, or a church member visit her every day.
But after eight months of petitioning lawmakers and enlisting the community's help, Lesvi says they've made little progress in getting her mother's deportation order thrown out.
“We are nowhere right now," Lesvi said.
Juana came to the United States more than 20 years ago to escape violence in Guatemala. She received asylum status a few years later.
But Juana had to leave the U.S. suddenly when her daughter back in Guatemala because deathly ill. She came back to the U.S. illegally.
“Think about it. What if it was you? What if you had to make that decision? What would you have done? Before you condemn or you judge us for what we did, for what mom did," Lesvi said.
The U.S. revoked Juana's asylum status, and earlier this year, immigration officials told her she'd be deported at the end of May.
“We hear of everything going on, and they’re out to get people who are bad and people who are a threat to citizens in the U.S.," Lesvi said. "And we are not. We have never been a threat to anyone in the U.S. My mama, she doesn’t even have a speeding ticket.”
This Christmas is unlike any holiday this family has been through.
“It’s a time of being together. It’s a time of conversation, joking around," Lesvi said. "Trying to make it great, even though she’s here, trying to make the best of it for her.”
But Juana only wishes for one thing this Christmas.
“The only thing she wants is to go back to her family and be left alone," said Lesvi, translating for her mother.
Juana's supporters started an online petition asking immigration officials to allow her to stay in North Carolina with her family. So far it has more than 2,400 signatures.