North Carolina is one of the the U.S. states with the most people seeking sanctuary from deportation.
The latest is Greenboro’s Oscar Canales, who is taking sanctuary at Greensboro’s Congregational United Church of Christ.
Canales was born in 1983 to parents who were subsistence farmers in the state of La Unión in El Salvador, and joined his aunt in the capital city of San Salvador at the age of 15 to work with livestock. Tired of constantly struggling to get by, Canales and a friend hired a coyote who told them he could get them work permits in the United States in 2005. Canales said he and his friend crossed the Rio Grande during daylight and walked into the Border Patrol under the mistaken belief that they would be given work permits. They didn’t realize the documents they received were not work permits but instead orders to appear in immigration court.
Canales said only after landing a job as a dishwasher at K&W Cafeteria in Greensboro did he have a lawyer look at his documents and learn that he had an immigration hearing. He was convicted in absentia.
Canales continued to work at K&W, where he met his wife. They have two children together, Karen and George, and co-parent his wife’s 17-year-old daughter, Shirley.
Canales started his own company, Canales Roofing, in 2012. He said he has employed about five people, including US citizens, since 2013. He said he’s put roofs on single-family homes, schools and businesses while paying taxes on his earnings.
One day in April 2013, while approaching an intersection on Merritt Drive, Canales said he accidentally let his foot off the brake and rear-ended another driver. Although there were no injuries or visible damage to either of the vehicles, Canales waited with the other driver for the police. Canales said after the Greensboro police officer looked at his Salvadoran ID, he arrested him based on his name matching another person with a criminal record who had the same name. After his booking in the Guilford County Jail, Canales was held in ICE custody in Winston-Salem, York, SC and the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. Eventually, he obtained a stay of removal and was released.
At his annual check-in with ICE on Oct. 26, the authorities seized Canales’ passport and notified him that his deportation order was being reinstated. At a follow-up appointment on Dec. 19, Canales was ordered to leave by Jan. 18.
Canales, who went into sanctuary at Congregational United Church of Christ on Thursday, and his supporters contend that honoring his deportation order would tear apart his family and disrupt a business that provides employment to Guilford County residents.
“Following Jesus means welcoming all, especially those who are targeted and treated unjustly,” said the Rev. Julie Peeples, the senior pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ. “Keeping families together is our way of loving our neighbor and living our faith.”
The church previously provided sanctuary to Minerva Garcia. Another immigrant facing deportation, Juana Luz Tobar Ortega, is currently in sanctuary at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, also in Greensboro.
A press conference will be held at 5 p.m. today at the New Garden Friends Meeting at 801 New Garden Road in Greensboro where Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, immigrant families, community organizations and supporters will share their stories and call for action from Congress to protect the estimated 3.6 million DREAMers in the country.