Days After Cleveland Heights Church Declares 'Sanctuary' Status, ICE Goes After Local Immigrant's Family

Following the announcement this week that an undocumented immigrant had taken refuge in a Cleveland Heights church, federal ICE officials have moved in on her Akron home, scaring her children. An office administrator at Forest Hill Presbyterian tells Scene that Leonor Garcia fears for her family's safety.

"ICE is at Leonor's house in Akron, banging on the door and terrorizing two innocent children who are in the house," a church official wrote to local media outlets on Friday. "There is no reason for this action since ICE knows full well that Leonor is in Sanctuary in Cleveland Heights. This is harassment."

Forest Hill Presbyterian announced its status as a "sanctuary church" earlier this week. The idea is that it will shelter undocumented immigrants in need of safe haven and protection as tensions between their families and the federal government grow more tense.

"Leonor is very upset," Pastor John Lentz told's Michael Sangiacomo. "Her daughter was upset as well because the agents pounded on the door and frightened the children beyond words."

Garcia came to the U.S. about 20 years ago as a teenager. ICE had homed in on her recently, and she was scheduled to be deported on Sept. 14. After the Trump administration announced the impending wind-down of the federal DACA program, Garcia sought safety at the church.

“I want to stay here with my family. I want to fight it because I love my family. I don’t [have anything] in Mexico, only here,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday, outside the church. She said she planned on visiting her children in Akron on weekends.

The national press has followed Garcia's case since the Obama administration was taking a more critical stance on undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children.

ICE offered Scene a comment on the question of "sanctuary churches," which are known as "sensitive locations" in the agency's definitions. A spokesperson said, "The ICE sensitive locations policy, which remains in effect, provides that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided, and requires either prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action."

In theory and practice, though, there's no stopping an enforcement agent from obtaining a warrant and arresting an undocumented immigrant inside a church or synagogue or mosque.

During the Tuesday press conference, Forest Hill pastor John Lentz noted that the announcement may trigger heavier scrutiny from local and federal law enforcement.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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