Asheboro woman returns home after years of living in church over fears of deportation

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — For nearly four years, 48-year-old Juana Ortega lived in a Greensboro church sanctuary. On Tuesday she freely went to her home in Asheboro without fear of deportation.

In 2017, Ortega realized her asylum claim from Guatemala was denied without reason. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not renew a one-year stay of deportation. She only had 30 days to leave the country.

The mother of four and grandmother of three took sanctuary at Saint Barnabas Church in Greensboro. Rooms were cleared and used for a makeshift bedroom and living space. She spent time doing what she loved like sewing pillows, purses and most recently masks.

Her family stayed at the church with her while immigration lawyers worked with ICE to get her proper documentation.

This week, ICE officials granted her a stay of removal.

On Tuesday, Ortega’s family and church members helped her pack to make the 30-mile trip to her home in Asheboro. Church members told FOX8 the past four years have been exhausting for Ortega. They said she’s ready to be back with her family in her own home.

In a statement, Ortega told FOX8, “I want to thank God and all of the people who have helped us. I wish blessings to everyone who has supported me and my family. I’m so glad to be able to return home.”

A spokesperson for Siembra NC, a community defense group working with Ortega, told FOX8 she is the last known person to receive a stay of removal in North Carolina.

Ortega plans to get her work permits soon.

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