MANCOS JOINS SANCTUARY MOVEMENT
As parents require more help, “What am I going to do?”
The community of Mancos has rallied around Rosa Sabido after she claimed sanctuary in the Mancos United Methodist Church to avoid almost-certain deportation.
Rosa Sabido’s mother was clearly sick. She already had health problems, but this was different. She could see it in her mother’s eyes when she walked into the fellowship hall. But to drive her to the doctor or the hospital, Sabido would have to do something risky. She would have to leave Mancos United Methodist Church, where she claimed sanctuary to avoid almostcertain deportation.
Sabido is 53, and like so many people her age, her parents are older and need her help. The family has called Cortez home for 30 years. By going into sanctuary in Mancos, 18 miles to the east, she had at least stayed close. But on this July day, watching her mother struggle, she couldn’t do much to help.
“I thought the worst,” Sabido said. “What if she gets really ill and has to go into the hospital? What am I going to do? What is right? It’s just a terrible situation.”
Sabido declared sanctuary June 2, days after learning from her attorney that her annual request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a stay of removal had been denied.
A chapter closed in the sanctuary movement in Colorado in May, when Jeanette Vizguerra and Ingrid Encalada Latorre left the Denver churches where they had sheltered after being granted temporary stays of removal.
But the movement’s story in Colorado continues. In June, not long after Sabido entered sanctuary, four churches in Colorado Springs formed a sanctuary coalition.
The current sanctuary movement is a revival of a campaign in the 1980s, when faith organizations came to the aid of Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants who often faced deadly situations if they were deported to their country of origin. Although the new sanctuary movement started in 2007, it has grown rapidly in the past year. National organizers at Church World Service say the number of faith communities in the movement has nearly doubled from about 400 before the November election to more than 800 today.
In the weeks since Sabido claimed sanctuary, the Rev. Craig Paschal, pastor of Mancos United Methodist, has been taking phone calls from faith leaders from Los Angeles to Alamosa asking, “Can our congregation do this?” It’s a question faith groups are wrestling with as they consider how to live out their faith in their communities in the face of what some see as a broken immigration system.
“This isn’t something a nonprofit can do,” said the Rev. Shawna Foster, pastor of Two Rivers United Unitarian church in Carbondale.
Her congregation declared it would offer sanctuary in May; it has partners but is currently the only host congregation in the
Roaring Fork Valley.
“Only people of faith can do this,” she said.
Navigating the system
The call from her attorney came 12 days ahead of Sabido’s next regularly scheduled check-in with an immigration officer.
“I asked her what would happen if I went to my next appointment,” Sabido said. “And she said, ‘It’s more than likely you’ll be detained and held in custody and then they will begin to process your deportation.’ ”
She reached out to her faith community for help. One of them knew the Mancos church had declared itself a sanctuary.
Sabido, who is Catholic, has worked as the parish secretary for Montelores Catholic Community in Cortez for eight years. (Before that, she worked at H&R Block for five years and, before that, at a casino for eight years. She also makes and sells tamales at the farmer’s market. The financial demands of supporting herself, helping her family and paying for an immigration attorney require working more than one job.)
All three of the people who have taken sanctuary in Colorado churches in recent years had children who are U.S. citizens. Sabido doesn’t have children and has never been married. “I’ve had offers, of course, all these years,” she said. But her faith is strong, and she takes marriage seriously. “If I do, I just want to do it the right way, for the right reason.”
Sabido’s stepfather first settled in Cortez in 1984, according to an immigration history provided by her attorney, Jennifer Kain-rios. Sabido first visited him, with her mother, in 1987 and traveled back and forth often over the next 10 years.
“Over time, as Rosa was using her visitor’s visa, she was spending more time in the United States and less time in Mexico and basically understood that she could come and go because she had a visitor’s visa,” Kain-rios said. “That became an issue for her when she was coming back from a trip.”
Returning to Colorado through the Phoenix airport in 1998, she was questioned at customs, as usual. But this time, her answers didn’t match the immigration officer’s expectations for someone traveling with a visitor’s visa. She was detained for hours, jailed overnight, then taken back to the airport in handcuffs and put on a plane to Mexico City.
“My father was waiting for me at the airport — and I never showed up,” Sabido said.
But she had to return, she said, “because I had my life going here, and my job and everything, and my family was here.”
After three harrowing attempts at crossing the border — once through the neck-deep river, where on the other side, “there was a border patrol officer pointing a rifle at my head,” she said — she finally returned through Arizona.
The next year, her stepfather became a naturalized U.S. citizen. As the wife of a citizen, her mother applied for permanent residence, which she won in 2001. Sabido’s mother filed a petition for her in 2001. But the wait list for these petitions is long.
Immigration law, said Kain-rios, is complicated and full of con- tradictions. “Without the assistance of qualified legal counsel, it’s really, really hard to use the immigration legal system for so long without tripping over some of those contradictions.”
Becoming a sanctuary congregation isn’t something that a pastor, priest or rabbi suddenly declares. Faith communities go through a discernment process that can last weeks or months, said Jennifer Piper, program director for interfaith organizing for the American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, in Denver.
After meeting with local immigrant-rights groups and determining that there is a need in the area, a congregation will learn more about the immigration system. The next step is “looking at the faith values you share as a faith community, and really evaluating, does the system represent the values that we hold?” Piper said. “And if they don’t, what are we called to do?”
At Mancos United Methodist, the sanctuary discussion started in January, Paschal said.
“Being in a small town, in my 13 years here, I never thought about anyone’s status, anyone’s immigration status. We were just neighbors,” he said. “It’s just our faith, loving our neighbor. So it was a pretty easy decision for us just to say, this is what it means for us to be people of faith, to care for our neighbors and to love them and be supportive.”
That’s the spiritual side to discernment. Then there’s the practical side. When they decided to become a host congregation, the fellowship hall wasn’t quite ready, Paschal said, but he wasn’t worried.
“What are the chances of us having someone in sanctuary?” he said, laughing. There were only 10, maybe a dozen cases in the entire country at that time, he said. Then, “Rosa contacted me.”
Church members jumped into action, transforming the nursery into a bedroom. A volunteer built a bathroom on one side of the nursery. Three days later, a shower was up and running.
From finding someone to stay at the church every night to doing chores such as laundry, hosting demands people power — something mainline Protestant denominations are keenly aware of in the era of declining membership and the rise of the religious “nones,” the Pew Research Center’s designation for the growing group of atheists, agnostics and people who don’t claim a religion.
That’s where supporting congregations come in, said Candace Datz, chairwoman of the Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition. Their host, All Souls, is a relatively small congregation, but First Congregational Church, a supporting congregation where Datz serves as the director of youth and adult ministry, has about 750 members, she said.
The Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition counts members around the area, including in Boulder County. But southwest Colorado doesn’t have a sanctuary coalition.
Mancos United Methodist Church has about 80 people in attendance on a good Sunday, Paschal said. According to a 2016 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the town has about 1,400 residents — fewer people than some Front Range megachurches see on Sundays.
But being in a small community has helped, Paschal said. Word gets around quickly, and the community has rallied. People have volunteered to stay at night and helped create Sabido’s website, rosabelongshere.org.
“I walk through town, and people stop and say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing. How can I help?’ ” Paschal said. “At the grocery store, at the Valley Inn, people call and send emails: ‘How can we help, we want to stand with Rosa.’ ”
Police versus law
Two Rivers in Carbondale began discussing immigration and sanctuary before the election, and Foster downplays the role of current politics in the congregation’s decision. She made two points that others interviewed for this story echoed: Democrats didn’t pass immigration reform when they had the chance, and “Lots of people were deported under (then-president Barack) Obama as well, so for me I feel it’s very much a nonpartisan issue.”
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an assistant professor at University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who teaches immigration law and writes about the intersection of criminal and immigration law at crimmigration.com, noted differences on the ground since the new administration entered the White House.
“The law on the books has not changed,” he said. “But the policy in terms of enforcement practices has changed.”
Congregations are paying attention to policy. President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” broadened deportation priorities for ICE and started the sanctuary conversation at Datz’s church.
In some ways, the movement itself hangs on an ICE policy that limits enforcement at “sensitive locations” — a list that includes schools, medical facilities and houses of worship. “The 2011 policy is just a memo issued by John Morton, who was the director of ICE,” García Hernández said. “The current director of ICE, Thomas Homan, could just rescind that.”
Kain-rios, Sabido’s attorney, noted that she couldn’t advise her on claiming sanctuary because “sanctuary isn’t really a legal option.”
So is it legal? It’s not a straightforward question, García Hernández said.
“In order to harbor somebody, you have to engage in some sort of hiding of a person. And that’s not what these churches are doing. They’re not trying to prevent ICE from knowing about a particular individual,” he said. “On the contrary, they’re very public about it. They hold press conferences. They make themselves known to the media — it’s the opposite of hiding.”
Around the country, 12 people were living in sanctuary as of Thursday, said the Rev. Noel Andersen at Church World Service, and the movement has seen 30 people claim sanctuary in the past three years. Piper, the organizer for ASFC in Denver, said she thinks more people will go into sanctuary in coming years.
“I think the legal questions are frankly not the most important ones,” García Hernández said. “I think the more important questions are the ones about whether people are willing to put their material resources and the power of their spiritual convictions to the test when their conscience demands it.
“What we’ve seen in recent months is that more and more people are willing to do that. So we are in a situation of having to wait and see whether the federal government continues to maintain the historical deference that law enforcement have held toward people who are engaging in this kind of exercise of their religious convictions.”
Rosa Sabido, 53, pauses inside Mancos United Methodist Church as she recounts her experiences trying to remain in the United States. She is living in sanctuary in the church.