As par­ents re­quire more help, “What am I go­ing to do?”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenn Fields

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, ros­abe­long­

“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 crim­mi­gra­, 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.”

Pho­tos by Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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.

Pho­tos by Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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