GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Immigrants fighting deportation from within sanctuaries in North Carolina came from the very countries behind the refugee crisis currently pushing thousands of immigrants to the U.S./Mexico border.

  • Three immigrants from three different countries are in sanctuary
  • One immigrant is in sanctuary because he was being threatened by the Guerilla Army in Guatemala
  • As of April, there are six people in sanctuary in churches in North Carolina

Oscar Canales, a Greensboro business owner, who is currently in sanctuary at the St. Episcopal United Christ Church in Greensboro is from El Salvador. Juana Ortega, also in a Greensboro church sanctuary is from Guatemala, and Rosa Ortez-Cruz, in sanctuary at a church in Chapel Hill, is from Honduras.

The story of how they got here decades ago is similar to what many are going through at the height of a refugee crisis for those three countries.

Juana Ortega says she loves her country and she’d love to be there but it’s just not an option anymore.

“(english tranlastion) I was being threatened by the Guerilla Army in Guatemala, and I had no other option than to leave the country. I was forced to come illegally to this country, and I came by way of a coyote."

Coyote, is a term for someone who smuggles or helps immigrants across the border. Ortega crossed in 1993 seeking political asylum. In 2005, Oscar Canales made a similar journey.

"I paid someone to bring me across Mexico,” says Canales, “He crossed me the river, he told you me 'You gotta walk to the immigration'.”

It took Canales eight days to make it from El Salvador to the U.S. border. He was granted a permit and asked to stay in touch with border officials until his deportation. Almost 14 years later, he’s fighting to stay in Greensboro in order to be with his family. Both Ortega and Canales say seeing people jailed and torn from their families makes them feel blessed to be in sanctuary right now.

"I've been blessed,” Canales says, “I still feel like I'm in jail here, but I can see my family."

As of April, there are six people in sanctuary in churches in North Carolina. The American Friends Service Committee reports, North Carolina has the most active congregational sanctuary cases of any state in the country.