Written by Connie Larkman
A United Church of Christ congregation in North Carolina is part of an interfaith effort rallying around a mother facing deportation this week, despite living and working in their Winston Salem community for the last 17 years.
Minerva Cisneros Garcia has a bus ticket to Mexico, with a Wednesday June 28 departure date. If she is deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she will be leaving three sons. Her eldest, 21-year old Eduardo, a 'Dreamer,' is blind and relies on her assistance. Her younger boys, U.S. citizens, are 3 and 6.
"Minerva is our neighbor. This family is part of our family," said the Rev. Craig Schaub, pastor of Parkway United Church of Christ. "When they are at risk of being broken apart, our community is broken as well."
Parkway UCC has been supporting Garcia and her family since her circumstances changed at her annual check-in with ICE in April.
Garcia came to the U.S. in 2000 after the death of her husband, searching for better educational opportunities for her son Eduardo. She has been working, paying taxes, and checking in regularly with ICE since she was picked up at a checkpoint in 2009.
Usually during her annual meeting Garcia was told she could continue life in her central North Carolina community if she stayed out of trouble. She has no criminal record. But on April 23, she was told she was facing deportation. ICE agents told her to buy a bus ticket to Mexico by the end of the month.
Garcia decided to speak out, to try to find a way to stay in this country with her sons. Parkway, along with other faith communities, immediately offered assistance.
"We seek at Parkway to welcome all," said Schuab. "This is part of our overall growing awakening as a congregation: our long-standing identity as Open and Affirming, our actions with trans people particularly hosting the Ministry Beyond Welcome of the Rev. Liam Hooper, our year-long effort to work with the White Privilege: Let's Talk! curriculum of the UCC, are ways we seek to deepen relationships with neighbors."
The Parkway congregation invited Garcia to speak during worship as a way for her to begin to feel comfortable sharing her story with the public. The church helped set up a petition drive and worked to distribute it for signatures. Members set up a legal fund and assist with its management, helped organize a number of news conferences and reached out to U.S. Senator Richard Burr's office on her behalf. On Friday June 9, the church held a fundraiser for Garcia, where her eldest son sang and played guitar.
Through all of this, Parkway continues to tell this family's story and hold them in prayer in the hopes of getting Garcia a stay of deportation and keeping her family together.
"Minerva has an evolving, changing day-to-day perspective on sanctuary, and I don't know how it will come out in the end if she does not get a stay," said Schaub.
He sees the resolution on being an immigrant welcoming church that is coming before General Synod later this week as a way people of faith can proclaim their values and offer assistance.
"Just a bit ago (on Sunday June 25) we finished a congregational meeting at Parkway declaring welcome to immigrants and resisting unjust immigration policies and procedures," he said. "So, the GS resolution is helpful for local congregations looking for information and a process to discern what is the role they can play in this important national dialogue and as a way to respond as people of faith."
After 17 years of life in America, Garcia is holding out hope she can continue to stay in the place Eduardo plans to remain, in the only home her two younger boys have ever known.
"I know America. In other countries when there is a problem or something bad happens, like an earthquake, America sends help. America is humanitarian," Garcia told Rewire. "In my situation, how they are treating me, is not how they are. It's not who America is. I can't understand it."