A traffic stop in October 2017 changed everything for Laura and her two sons.
When a Painesville police officer gave the undocumented immigrant a traffic court date, she knew this would likely mean a report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deportation.
It hasn’t happened, though. Instead, a community of music lovers and churchgoers have raised money on the third Sunday of each month to help St. Andrew Episcopal Church in Mentor provide sanctuary for the family. The seventh installment of the Mentor church’s Sanctuary Concert Series takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, July 15. The event is free and open to anybody, but the church suggests a $10 donation.
All proceeds enable St. Andrew to house Laura and sons.
“The concerts have become our primary source for funding their needs,” says the Rev. Lisa O’Rear. “The fact that the concerts have done that is amazing.”
Laura crossed the U.S.-Mexico border 15 years ago with two children, including a son who was just 2 years old at the time. O’Rear had been rector of St. Andrew for just nine months when she heard about the family, but knew the church needed to act fast.
“That would have been a family separation,” O’Rear says of the single mother’s likely deportation.
The church vestry met within a week of O’Rear learning about Laura and decided that offering sanctuary was the right thing to do despite a lack of funding to do so.
“We’re very close to the bone with our budget,” O’Rear says. “That was an ongoing concern — we can’t dip into our maintenance [budget] of our church to support Laura and the boys.”
But the concert series has mitigated that concern, raising $9,000 thus far. St. Andrew also has received donations from community members outside of the concerts. The money helps St. Andrew provide the family with food, medicine and other essentials, as well as cover the increase in utilities at the church.
That’s more important than ever in this era of child separation and border wall promises. Churches are among the few places in the United States that discovered, undocumented immigrants like Laura are reasonably safe from deportation. Though the agency doesn’t offer a full guarantee, ICE says it will mostly stay away from churches, schools, hospitals and other places it considers to be “sensitive.”
“Enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided,” the ICE website reads.
O’Rear says Laura and her children have a pathway to citizenship because she has applied for a U Visa with the help of the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center at Case Western Reserve University. The U Visa represents nonimmigrant status for those who have suffered physical or mental abuse and opt to aid in the investigation and/or prosecution of their offenders, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Several years could pass before Laura’s U Visa status is approved, but O’Rear says all involved are confident that it will eventually happen.
“She is profoundly in a better position than she was in October,” O’Rear says. “This is a family that, God willing, I don’t think will be separated.
“That’s a huge, huge thing.”
St. Andrew Episcopal Church’s Sanctuary Concert Series takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month at 7989 Little Mountain Road in Mentor. This week’s musical performers are local acts Apostle Jones, Steve Wright and Kate Kooser. Visit the church’s Facebook page or call 440-255-8842 for more information.