After Months Seeking Sanctuary, NC Woman Granted Permanent Residency

May 14, 2019

Host Frank Stasio (left) with attorney Helen Parsonage (middle) and Minerva Cisneros Garcia (left) at the Triad Stage in downtown Greensboro.
Credit Dana Terry/WUNC

One of the first undocumented immigrants to seek sanctuary in a North Carolina church has been granted permanent residency.

Minerva Cisneros Garcia came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico in 2000. She stayed in regular contact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but in May 2017 she was given less than one month to leave the country. Garcia sought sanctuary to prevent deportation and moved into the United Church of Christ in Greensboro with her family. Earlier this month, a Charlotte judge ruled that Garcia can get a green card and stay in the United States.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Garcia and her lawyer Helen L. Parsonage about their fight to secure permanent legal status in a climate with strict immigration policy enforcement. Parsonage is an immigration attorney based in Winston-Salem.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Garcia on her annual check-in with ICE in May 2017:

They told me: You can go home. We don’t have anything new to tell you. Come back next year. Three weeks later I got a letter saying I had to leave the country in 1 month … which was June 30th. When I got that letter I was in shock … I was trying to understand. Why are they telling me to go to Mexico? What’s going to happen with my kids? What’s going to happen with me.  

 

Garcia on why she left Guerrero, Mexico and came to the U.S.:

My husband passed away in 2000. And I had to make the decision where to go for my son to be able to go to school. My son is blind. He was 5 years old at the time and the place where we used to live, there is no school for [the] blind. I had to move. I had to look for a place [for] my son to get an education. [And] besides an education, for him to be safe.

Garcia on the fear of losing her children:

If I go back to Mexico, [am] I going to leave my kids here? I will never see them [again] especially my older son. He’s in DACA, they’re not able to go to Mexico and come back.

 

We just followed the law step by step. We did not bend the rules. - Helen Parsonage, immigration attorney

Parsonage on the pathways to legal residency:

A lot of people think if you enter the country without documents that there’s nothing you can do and that is true for the vast majority. But actually, there are a few exceptions to that rule. Asylum, you mentioned, is one of them. There are visas for victims of crimes and there are certain pathways specially created for victims of domestic violence.  

 

Parsonage on the realities of immigration court:

I wish having the right lawyer would be the only thing that mattered. But some cases are just harder than others. And the Charlotte immigration court is notorious, I think would be the word, for a low approval rate particularly for asylum claims. So we’re fortunate that this wasn’t an asylum claim.