Leonor Garcia Leonor Garcia
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Every morning, Leonor Garcia wakes in a little apartment on the second floor of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. She goes downstairs at about 8 a.m. to a bathroom in the basement, showers and then makes breakfast in a kitchen down a hall painted like a biblical bazaar. 

When I meet Leonor for the first time, she is cooking eggs. 

Her determined round face, punctuated by eyebrows like thick dashes, hardens as she works them around the pan. Her hair is clipped up to keep it out of her way as she cooks. 

As I sit at the large kitchen table, she offers a glass of water with ice from the refrigerator labeled with a paper sign: “This is Leonor’s refrigerator. Please do NOT help yourself to her food. Thank you!” 

“The first time I was coming over here, they go to the store and give me food and everything, and give me the sign,” she says in broken English about her first days at the church. “Everybody is very nice.”

Volunteers shop for Leonor’s groceries. They transport her four children, ages 4 to 19, to visit from their home in Akron. They donate clothes and furniture and birthday presents. They cook her meals or bring cakes and salads in a kind of weeklong potluck. They eat with her and spend nights with her. One asked to give her a haircut. 

To coordinate the more than 70 helpers, they keep a schedule in an elaborate Google document. She returns the charity by cooking them meals and cleaning their church. 

She would repay the debt at their homes if she could. But they must come to her, because Leonor cannot leave. 

Now 41, she crossed the border illegally from Mexico as a 15-year-old and has lived in the United States for more than 25 years. She worked at McDonald’s, got a better job, found love, moved to Florida then Ohio, bought a house in Akron, paid her taxes and raised her children. With barely a third-grade education, Leonor gritted out a little slice of the American pie in the rubber capital of the world.

Then, in 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement came for her partner, Jose. She suspects he may have been mixed up in something illegal, but doesn’t know much more. 

They were looking for her too. 

In an instant, her happy life crumbled. Jose was deported. Their children were distraught. Leonor thought she might have to go too. She was given an order of removal. But as the primary caretaker of her children, she was allowed to stay in the United States. 

For six years she budgeted her life in tenuous three- to six-month chunks between ICE check-ins. Then during an August appointment, Leonor was given just two weeks. 

They put a GPS monitor on her ankle. They told her to buy a plane ticket to Mexico. She had 14 days to leave the country.

If she didn’t go willingly, ICE would arrest her. Either way, Leonor would be forced to leave her four children, all U.S. citizens. Her choice seemed like no choice at all. 

So three days before the deadline, Leonor fled to the one place ICE could not get her. She came to the Cleveland Heights church on the hill with help from local activists.

Now she only sees her children on weekends. Her 19-year-old daughter, Margaret, cares for the boys in Akron during the week. 

This Friday in mid-October, however, the children are off from school. Her two youngest — 6-year-old Luis Mario and almost-4-year-old Adan — climb into chairs at the kitchen table. Luis Mario, an exuberant troublemaker, shakes my hand. Adan, dimpled and shy, does not. 

“Mommy, I’m hungry,” the older boy says. 

Leonor rummages in the fridge and cooks up huevos and sausage. Thirteen-year-old Erik, a late riser with a barbershop fade, shows up 10 minutes later. Leonor makes herself a plate but barely touches it, drinking coffee loaded to the brim with milk and sugar like in her home country. 

After breakfast, she washes the dishes by hand and offers a tour of the white-steepled church that has been her home for the last 23 days. She shows me her 20-by-20 room with its gray institutional carpet and donated bed, couch and easy chair. She guides me down the hall to the chapel where she prays when she needs strength, then downstairs to the warren of rooms that make up the day care center, where she sometimes helps out. 

We go up a staircase to the church’s front lobby, past a purple fabric sculpture. At the front, she heaves open one of the doors. 

I wander out onto the steps, which look out on the intersection of Monticello and Lee boulevards. Across the street is Forest Hill Park. Along the walking paths the leaves will soon turn, wilting crimson and amber. 

Leonor lingers on the threshold with the door open. I ask if she can go to the park. She shakes her head. 

“It’s hard, because all the time, people come [to the church] and work. Everybody leave,” Leonor says. “Everybody coming, and go back.” I walk back inside, and she lets the door fall shut.

“All the day, me stay here,” she says.

On Monday, Leonor cleans the church. She spends Tuesday in the food pantry, Wednesday cleaning the church’s industrial kitchen, with another round of cleaning Thursday and Friday to prepare for service. 

This Friday, Leonor swaps out the offertory envelopes in the church’s sanctuary, under the white hanging cross, slung with a crown of thorns. She sits and scoots across the narrow space between the squat pews re-aligning the hymnals and collecting trash.

A volunteer from Pepper Pike, Carol Wedell, arrives to keep her company. But her time here is more than social. 

“Without being crude, this was a way of telling my government what I thought about what they were doing,” she says as we wait for Leonor to finish, “but also stand up for someone that I felt deserved a chance.”

Leonor stacks the discarded envelopes in the top of a red Staples box and carries them to the kitchen, where she sorts them into rubber-banded piles. Opposite the stove, a floor-to-ceiling painting of a biblical stucco hut looms over us. It reminds Leonor of her mother’s house in Michoacan, Mexico.

Life there was hard. Her family was poor. They ate mostly rice, beans and tortillas. They kept them in baskets, like the ones in the painting. Meat was a rarity. 

“When you go to the store, you got a little bit, because you can’t spend lot of money,” she tells me later. 

Her early years were marked by constant, tragic turmoil. She barely remembers her father, who died suddenly when she was 3. Her grandfather was killed in a drunk driving accident, so she lived with her mother and grandmother. 

Low on money, her mother got a job in Mexico City, which took her far from home for long stretches. Little Leonor would wait by the road, peering into cars and buses, hoping to see her mother.

She does not want her children to experience such longing. When they are at the church, Adan and Luis Mario are never far. 

As she finishes with the envelopes, they color pictures at the table. 

Erik, though, is upstairs. “Erik, he no like coming over here. ‘Mommy,’ he say, ‘it’s boring,’ ” Leonor says to Wedell. “ ‘I don’t go anywhere, I stay in the church.’ ”

“What would he like to do?” Wedell asks.

“He want to go to the stores in the mall, go walking,” Leonor says. 

Erik is torn. He does not want to leave his mother. When not at the church, he calls her frequently, sometimes several times a day. But there is little for the 13-year-old, who loves the mall and watching the Golden State Warriors, to do at Forest Hill. 

He’s also old enough to understand his mother’s situation.

When Leonor arrived at Forest Hill, there was a press conference. Leonor held Adan in her arms while standing with Margaret and Luis Mario. But Erik stayed inside. He didn’t want to be embarrassed if his school friends saw him on the news, Leonor says.  

She knows the other boys are struggling too. They seem to sense their mother’s strain. 

Adan and Luis Mario find dry erase markers and draw pictures of the outdoors on the kitchen white board. Flowers and plants, the sun, a star. 

Leonor putters around the kitchen, rearranging dishes, then sits down. Adan’s eyes droop as he crawls into his mother’s lap. 

Leonor tells Wedell about last night, how, on the air mattress he shares with his mom and Luis Mario, Adan woke up. 

“Are we going home?” he asked. 

“Not yet,” Leonor told him. 

He kissed her and went back to sleep. 

After Sunday service on Aug. 6, 24 ruling elders and trustees of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church made their way into the church basement for a special meeting. 

They arranged folding chairs around the prayer labyrinth painted on the floor. Walking its winding path is meant to focus the mind on meditation and discernment. 

Two members of the church made a presentation. Leonor needed their help, they said. Her situation was uncertain, but she could soon be “voluntarily deported,” which means those here illegally are permitted to leave on their own rather than through the normal deportation process. 

During President Barack Obama’s second term, ICE deportations across the nation declined. Last year, 240,255 people were deported, a slight increase over 2015 levels, but down 24 percent from 2014. But with President Donald Trump in office, the machinery of immigration enforcement has accelerated. 

“For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an April speech. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws and the catch-and-release practices of old are over.”

In Northeast Ohio, Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of Hola Ohio, a grassroots advocacy organization for immigrants and those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, saw that shift firsthand. 

People who had orders of removal, but had been allowed to stay, like Leonor, were being deported. In July, a Willard man named Jesus Lara Lopez, who came to this country illegally, was voluntarily deported. He paid for a ticket and got on a plane July 18. 

In September, Cleveland’s newly installed Catholic Bishop Nelson Perez went to the local ICE office to plead the case of Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez, who previously had a work permit. According to The Plain Dealer, when Hernandez-Ramirez’s American-born wife asked what had changed, the agent said, “It was because of the new president and the new administration.”

Taking in Leonor could be a great risk for the church, the elders were told. If ICE came, leadership would be forced to demand the agents produce a federal court order for her removal or, in the worst case, stand between them and Leonor. And there was no telling how long she might need to live there. One church they knew had supported a woman for 11 months. 

“Our hope is that this is somewhat temporary,” the Rev. John Lentz told the elders. “We’re hoping that her visa status changes, but you see what we may be facing.”

The pastor went around the circle, expecting some opposition. The elders said a prayer and cast their votes. It was unanimous. 

Forest Hill would become the first church in Northeast Ohio to give sanctuary to an immigrant without legal status in the U.S.

Leonor spends the rest of Friday afternoon cleaning hallways and sweeping nurseries. The kids tear up and down the halls as she works, playing tag. 

A volunteer drops off a Paw Patrol remote control car, which the boys take turns gleefully crashing into the baseboards, much to Leonor’s chagrin. 

She could easily stop working to play with them. Her schedule is self-imposed. But instead, she cleans.

Finally, Leonor is done. After being cooped up all day, Erik, Luis Mario and Adan sprint the few steps to the playground, nestled inside the church’s horseshoe, right underneath Leonor’s apartment window. They meet up with two boys, waiting for their parents after piano lessons, bouncing a green ball. Leonor follows them, but hangs back near the door. 

“Be careful!” she yells after her sons.

When Leonor first arrived, she was petrified of the playground. She thought immigration officers could be lurking around the corner, waiting for her. Her GPS ankle monitor would betray her location. One of their unmarked cars would screech to a halt, and plainclothes officers would drag her away. 

“All the time, I stay over here. Luis Mario and Adan go, ‘Why you no go over there?’ ” says Leonor, facing the playground, which can’t be more than 20 feet away. “I got scared, ‘Because,’ I say, ‘maybe immigration stay over here.’ I got scared for everything right now.”

She has reason to fear. After she came to the church, ICE went to her house in Akron. Margaret photographed the agents from a second floor window: a white man and a black man, in khaki pants, T-shirts and baseball caps. They knocked on the door and waited for a while, leaning against an unmarked silver SUV. 

Leonor’s lawyer Elizabeth Ford believes it was an intimidation tactic. An ICE spokesman says the agents were there because Leonor had missed a routine check and they did not make contact with anyone at the house.

The farthest Leonor has strayed from the church was during a walk with one of the volunteers. They went out the doors on one side of the horseshoe complex, then walked to the other side, always just a few strides away from the church. 

While she covers it well with humor and small talk, Leonor’s fears have seeped into her dreams. She has nightmares where immigration officers come to take her. So she waits behind Adan, Luis Mario and Erik, scanning the parking lot for suspicious cars. 

Today, she sees only a gaggle of Boy Scouts unloading a van. So she ambles to the playground for the second time since her arrival, opening the gate of the black fence. 

She chases after Luis Mario, giggling and yelling as he throws a ball at her. “I’m going to get you out, Mom!” he shrieks. Leonor runs from him, hopping over a bench.

A rattletrap gray compact car whines through the parking lot, just beyond the playground. She cranes at the jalopy as the smile pauses on her face. The car drives slowly away and the game resumes. 

“Immigration coming and me jump, like whoop!” she says, throwing her head back in a darkly humorous half-laugh. 

It is not quite a joke.

In Mexico, Leonor’s prospects were dim. 

She dropped out of school after the third grade. But she loved to eat and cook. So Leonor’s mother and grandmother taught her the family recipes. 

Her chicharrones were so good, she began to sell them on the street. She learned to make corn tortillas too, squishing the maize paste thin in a press and frying them on a hot griddle. Once hired to make hundreds, she worked so hard to fill the order that the griddle seared skin from her hand.

Leonor was a hard worker, but her mother and an uncle in America didn’t want her to struggle. In 1991, they arranged for Leonor to cross the border. 

She was almost 16 when she met a smuggler in Mexicali, a city in northwest Mexico. In a beauty parlor, Leonor’s hair and makeup were done up to resemble a picture on an identification card. Then Leonor and two other women piled into the back of a car headed for the border. 

When the car crept to a stop at the crossing, a Border Patrol agent checked the cards, looking intently at each woman. As the officer worked from face to face, Leonor smelled urine. The fear had been too much for one of the other girls. But they made it. 

The smuggler dropped her off to wait for her uncle in a 7-Eleven bathroom. That’s where Leonor’s American dream began.

To a teenager from a poor Mexican family, California was paradise. Leonor was amazed when her uncle took her to the mall and grocery store in Van Nuys, and let her buy anything she wanted. The only thing better was buying things herself. 

When Leonor got her first paycheck, about $100 from a job at a McDonald’s, she joyously phoned her mother to tell her she was rich. She thought of all the things she could eat, then went to Taco Bell for the Nachos BellGrande.

In America, she even found love. 

After McDonald’s, Leonor got a job as a janitor at a mall. One night as she was struggling to load a bag of trash into the dumpster, a man offered to help. A food court cook, he started hanging around as she did her work and then asked her out. She told him no. But he persisted, offering rides to work. When they finally went out, Jose surprised her with a kiss during a walk in the park. 

On Saturday morning, the kids sleep late. 

Erik and Luis Mario lean over their plates, scooping up eggs and leftover lo mein from last night’s Chinese food. The boys are supposed to go to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History with Anne Hill, another volunteer. 

But Erik has decided he wants to go home instead. “I’m not going,” Erik mumbles to Luis Mario. 

Luis Mario smirks mischievously, intent to embarrass his brother about why they were up so late. “Because you were crying,” says Luis Mario. “You wanted to go home.” 

“I’m not gonna go,” Erik says. “Are you gonna go?”

Luis Mario nods. “Are you going to take your Xbox?”

“You can keep it here,” says Erik. 

As they finish breakfast, Sharon Shumaker, one of the heads of the sanctuary committee, arrives to check in with Leonor. Wiry and active, with short hair and glasses, she learned Spanish while doing missionary work in Costa Rica. We go into the hallway to talk. After a while, Leonor joins us. 

Away from the children, Leonor’s face is ashen. She asks Shumaker, in Spanish, if one of the volunteers could give Erik a ride. It is only halfway through their long weekend together, and he already wants to leave. 

She wants him to stay, to go with the other boys on the trip, then go home tomorrow. But Erik isn’t interested.

“He’s suffered so much. I feel bad,” says Leonor, her voice catching. “I’ve looked into therapy for him.” 

“He doesn’t want to go?” asks Shumaker. 

“Yes, but everything that has happened to us wasn’t easy,” says Leonor. 

She covers her face in her hands, trying to press in the tears that spill out, uncontrolled. 

Shumaker wraps Leonor in her arms. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Leonor cries. 

Shumaker rocks her gently. “True. And as more time passes in this situation, more things will come,” she says. 

Leonor wipes her cheeks. She sniffs and composes herself. 

“But if someone can take him … ” she says as her voice trails off.

Leonor and Jose lived in California and Florida, then moved to Akron in 2001. By 2011, they had purchased a house. 

Leonor had just given birth to Luis Mario. They were far from rich, but her job at a window factory, and Jose’s in landscaping, paid well enough.

Then, one day, two ICE agents showed up at Jose’s work. Leonor is still not sure exactly how they found Jose or why he attracted their attention. They were looking for her too. 

Jose took them to the house and knocked on the door. “These people are here about the car insurance,” he told Leonor, trying to hide the true purpose of their visit from the children. 

Leonor remembers stepping outside and closing the door behind her. 

“Why are you taking him? He’s working all the time, very hard, seven days. Why are you taking him?” she recalls asking the ICE agents. 

“I’m sorry, this is my job,” one said.

She remembers how the agents came into the house, how Margaret and Erik watched as they took her fingerprints. She remembers how Jose was stoic as they took him away. 

“Jose, he got very strong,” says Leonor. “He no cry, no nothing.” 

She has not seen Jose in person again. He called on FaceTime once from Mexico, but it wasn’t the same. After that, he mostly called the children. 

For the first few months, she didn’t want to eat anything. She couldn’t sleep. The postpartum depression she suffered after Luis Mario was born got worse. 

There was one small spot of hope. Leonor got a reprieve. The immigration court gave her an order of removal. But as the sole supporter of three American citizens, ICE let her stay. She was required to check in every three to six months. 

Leonor is meticulous with her records. The paperwork that gives her children the rights of American citizens — their birth certificates and Social Security cards — and medical records are kept in a bedroom closet. Her tax paperwork is organized by year and carefully arranged in folders. 

She keeps track of each ICE sign-in sheet and collects business cards from anyone offering one. She even brought one ICE sign-in sheet with her to the church. 

On it, her right index fingerprint is in a small box on the right-hand side. Dated July 2011, it shows 11 check-ins between 2011 and 2014 with an ICE agent’s initials — B.C. — after almost every one. 

Leonor, Luis Mario and Adan watch Cinderella on a small television as they wait for Anne Hill. 

Under the rule of her evil stepmother, Cinderella cooks and cleans, yearning to attend the ball and be free. But before Cinderella’s fairy godmother makes an appearance, Hill arrives. Leonor shuts off the TV.

The boys head off, and the two of us eat lunch at about 4 p.m. Leonor retrieves a pot of soaking pinto beans. They are organic, purchased by a volunteer on one of the weekly grocery store trips. 

The beans seem ridiculous to Leonor. Who buys organic beans? But she is proud to tell me the secret of the dish: She sautees onions in the pot first, then pours the beans on top. 

She warms them on the stove, beside a grill pan of finely cut beef and corn tortillas. She serves them with leftover white rice from last night’s Chinese and a spicy green salsa she made in a church-supplied blender. 

After ICE took Jose, Leonor threw herself into community work with Hola and other organizations. She protested other deportations and lobbied members of Congress. She had a driver’s license and transported other people who came to this country illegally to their doctor’s appointments. 

It made the first three days at the church especially hard, Leonor says. “Because me never stay in the same place, never, never. All the time I take the people, the other people,” she says. “I pray and I pray and I pray, because I don’t want depression again.”

As Leonor does the dishes, I wander into the room beside the kitchen. The labyrinth is painted on the wood floor there, between two windows. The sun streams in, making an intricate pattern across the path, meant to be walked in prayer. 

It has a single entrance, which is also its exit. When you appear close to the center, you are actually farthest away from it. When you appear farthest away from the center, you are actually closest. 

Leonor used it to pray about two weeks after she arrived. She sent Luis Mario through first to pray for her to go home, like he does at Catholic school. Then she walked through, winding toward the center, praying. 

She prayed for her friends, all the people she had helped in Akron. She prayed they would not be scared. She prayed for her brothers. She prayed for her mother in Mexico. She prayed for her children. 

“I pray because I want to stay, everybody together,” she says.

Hill returns with the kids, tuckered out from the museum. Only a few hours after our lunch, volunteers Sue and Scott Lafferty show up with supplies for hamburgers. Leonor cooks them on the industrial kitchen’s flattop. Before dinner is done, Adan is snoring and Luis Mario soon follows. 

At dinner we eat quietly. Leonor spoons some beans onto Scott’s plate. “You’ll like these beans,” she laughs. “Organic.” 

After dinner, the Laffertys wash dishes as Leonor takes Adan in her arms, still fast asleep, back to the apartment. 

She kisses him as she carries him. “I love you,” she whispers. 

She arranges two air mattresses against the apartment’s inner wall, as far from the windows as possible, where she will sleep with Adan and Luis Mario. 

Soon, Leonor shuts the door to lie with them. Sue will be staying the night. 

“I don’t sleep great when I’m here. Every sound … ” Sue tells me in the room next door. “We have a call list. All the doors are locked, and God, I hope they wouldn’t break down the door.” 

On Sunday mornings, the church parking lot clogs with cars, and the halls reverberate with screaming children. In her kitchen, Leonor makes breakfast for her brother, Diego*, who has driven from the Akron area. 

Even the drive is a significant risk, he says. He is also in this country illegally. If he is pulled over, the police might notify ICE. 

“If I had a good cop, they’re going to give me a card or a ticket,” says Diego. “But if I have someone mean, forget it. He’s going to call somebody else, and they’re going to get me.”

When he came to America in 1998, Diego lived in Kentucky. He worked for a racehorse breeder cleaning stalls and shoeing feet. He did everything but ride. 

Diego still sends money home to their mother. “When you leave your country, people don’t know what you leave behind. You leave your father, your mother. They could die,” he says. “And how are you going to come back?”

In their Michoacan hometown near the city of Uruapan, cartels are the norm. The ultra-violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel battles the Zetas and Knights Templar. 

“We are just right in the middle of it,” says Diego “Everybody is fighting to just get more space.”

One of their uncles was kidnapped, Diego and Leonor say. They sent money home to their mother for the ransom. But the family never saw their uncle again. 

“I think they cut his head off,” says Diego. “I don’t know.” 

Their mother receives telephone calls saying that Diego has returned to Mexico and has been kidnapped. “She gets worried and starts calling everybody here [in America] and see if that’s true,” says Diego. 

The callers know personal details, ones only Diego and his mother could know. Diego suspects they listen to his mother’s conversations.  

“Even when they get deported, they just get killed over there,” Diego says. “They’re not lying. That’s the way it is.” 

You can see ICE’s Brooklyn Heights office from Interstate 480, a blue square building, seemingly all windows. 

When I show Leonor a photograph of the building on my phone, she frowns deeply. “I scared of this building, I no like,” she says. 

On Aug. 1, Leonor went for her regular check-in. In the past, she received a signature on her paper and another check-in date. But Trump’s election changed everything. 

Leonor had encouraged her daughter Margaret to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. When Trump won, the family knew things would change. 

Margaret, who had planned to attend Kent State University, went upstairs and cried. 

For this check-in, Leonor brought Ford, her attorney. They walked through the metal detectors and into a small waiting room. Ford had been there often and knew the two chatty security guards.

There often seemed to be a lack of chairs, she noticed. Sometimes people stood in the hallway. But today, the waiting room was virtually empty. 

They went to the window and passed Leonor’s paper to the secretary, who took it to the agents in back. They waited. 

Leonor was nervous. The wait was never short, but today’s seemed longer than usual. 

Why are we waiting here for two hours when we are the only people here? Ford thought. 

Finally, an ICE agent emerged. He handed Leonor’s papers to Ford. Leonor had two weeks to buy a plane ticket back to Mexico, he said. She had to leave before Sept. 14. 

“I tried to ask him why this was happening,” Ford recalls. “He would just repeat himself louder and more aggressively to me.” 

Then the agent took Leonor to a back room. Scared and alone, she began to pray. 

A woman came into the room and handed Leonor a card. She worked for BI Inc., a company that supplies GPS tracking devices. The woman showed Leonor an instructional video, gave her a pamphlet and fastened a tracking device around her right ankle. 

After four hours, Ford led Leonor to the parking lot. 

Leonor won’t discuss how she arrived at the church. 

Her attorney and Hola Ohio’s Dahlberg say they were unaware of her plans to go into sanctuary. But Anne Hill, one of the volunteers, a retired local government and community relations director for MetroHealth System, had been tracking Leonor’s case through the Hola network. 

“Hola can’t specifically promote sanctuary, but individuals who are friends of Hola can,” says Hill. “So I contacted John [Lentz], a couple of us met with him, and it just went from there.”

On Sept. 12, two days before Leonor’s deadline, Forest Hill Presbyterian held a press conference on the church steps. 

“Separating a mother from her children is not what we do as people of faith,” Lentz, the pastor, said at the podium, speaking to a smattering of cameras. “It is not what we, as Americans, should do either.” 

The Bible is very clear, Lentz said, quoting Leviticus 19:34. “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you. You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” he read. 

Leonor carried Adan to the podium. Luis Mario and Margaret stood behind her. Her voice carried through the speakers, breaking. “I want to stay over here for my family,” she said. “I’m going to fight it, because I love my family.”

Leonor’s immigration status is, as of early November, unresolved. “It all depends on how she wants to handle things,” says Ford, her lawyer. “She knows what she’s doing, about what ICE’s position is.” 

The process with ICE is ongoing, she says. 

In an interview shortly after Leonor took sanctuary, Lentz said the church was expecting Leonor to stay for about a month, but was prepared to house her indefinitely. 

Leonor slips into the sanctuary mid-service, taking a pew off to the side. 

Diego and the kids have left for Akron. She watched from the doorway, not wanting to go into the crowded Sunday parking lot. 

She will not see the children for another week. Her afternoon will be spent watching Spanish soap operas. She will have dinner with a small group, including Forest Hill’s associate pastor Lois Annich, who will uncork Apothic Red wine poured into plastic cups. 

After dinner, Cleveland Heights Mayor Cheryl Stephens will visit. She and Leonor will make the week’s grocery list, speaking in rapid Spanish. Lentz’s wife, Deanne, will stay the night.

But right now, the Sunday service is in progress. Leonor’s chestnut hair, graying at the scalp, is down, let loose from the clip for the first time in three days. She mouths along with the singing congregation. The service ends with the benediction.

“Now go out from this place in peace. Continue with rejoicing in God’s presence, and go on ahead and practice God’s presence every day,” Annich says, with finality. “Return no evil for evil, support the weak, comfort the suffering, honor all people, including yourself.”

The congregation launches into song. A piano swells, twinkling between the words. Leonor sings along, looking across at the pews full of people, her protectors, their voices joined.  

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary.

Pure and holy, tried and true. 

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary

For you.

The piano fades gently. Their voices, strong and somber, pause longer, holding onto the words. 

Lord prepare me; to be a sanctuary.

Pure and holy; tried and true. 

With thanksgiving; I’ll be a living sanctuary

For you.  

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