MANCOS – Rosa Sabido likes to say she lives inside a postcard.
She loves the scenery, community and healthy lifestyle in Cortez, where she has lived and worked for 30 years. But the idyllic scene may be coming to an end.
Sabido, a Mexican national, was told in May that her application for a one-year stay of removal was denied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was ordered to leave the country or face deportation.
She has since sought sanctuary at the United Methodist Church in Mancos, where she hopes to buy herself enough time to apply for another stay of removal and continue to seek permanent residency.
“I stay in here, I go to services on Sundays, and sometimes I walk outside during the night or morning,” Sabido said this week during an interview on church grounds, where she has lived since June 2. She has a bedroom, and soon, a shower in the church’s fellowship building. She passes the time by meeting with well-wishers and helping out where she can, including gardening.
After 30 years of living in the country, Sabido seems an unlikely candidate for deportation. She pays taxes, has no criminal history and has worked several jobs, including eight years as secretary for the Montelores Catholic Community, a collective of churches in Southwest Colorado.
She cares for her mother, who has been a lawful permanent resident since 2001 and also lives in Cortez.
So close to citizenshipSabido’s story is one of close calls, near misses and frustrating encounters when it comes to obtaining citizenship and delaying deportation, according to a four-page timeline and summary of events provided by Sabido’s immigration attorney, Jennifer Kain-Rios of Lakewood.
The first close call: Sabido’s step-father is a legal resident of the United States. But for U.S. immigration law to recognize the relationship of a stepchild, a marriage must take place before the child’s 18th birthday. Sabido’s mother married Manuel Sabido on Rosa Sabido’s 18th birthday.
Another close call: Sabido came to the United States in 1987, one year after the 1986 amnesty that gave 2.7 million undocumented residents a pathway to citizenship.
Sabido was born in 1964 in Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. She first came to the United States as a visitor to live with her stepfather, Manuel Sabido, in Cortez. Upon arrival, Sabido took a job at the Days Inn in Cortez as a housekeeper. She also worked nine years at the Ute Mountain Casino and worked several years for H&R Block doing tax preparation, including providing interpretation for Spanish speakers.
According her attorney’s timeline, Sabido made several trips to Mexico in the 1990s on a travel visa. But she apparently stayed in Mexico too long on one of those visits – more than 90 days – which broke 10 years of continuous residency and disrupted an avenue to permanent residency.
After Sabido’s mother gained permanent residency, Sabido applied for residency in 2001. But immigration is so backed up that her petition is still pending. In the meantime, she has dodged several deportation orders and been granted six one-year stays of removal.
But for unknown reasons, her application for a seventh one-year stay of removal was denied this year.
ICE informed Sabido that she would be detained upon showing up for a previously scheduled check-in appointment June 5 with the ICE office in Durango.
Instead, she asked for sanctuary at the Mancos United Methodist Church.
Kain-Rios said Sabido’s situation can largely be blamed on “our broken immigration system and the fact that Congress hasn’t done anything to provide any sort of immigration reform in decades.”
ICE says appeals exhaustedCarl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE, said Sabido entered the United States without permission on a return trip from Mexico in May 1998. A judge granted her a “voluntary departure” on Aug. 19, 2002, but she failed to depart, and a final order of removal became effective July 14, 2004. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied her last appeal on Sept. 13, 2005.
Sabido was arrested as an ICE fugitive Sept. 12, 2008, and released on an order of supervision, which required her to report to an ICE office on a periodic basis. She was granted a request for a one-year stay of removal on March 11, 2011. Since then, she has been granted five additional one-year stays of removal.
ICE denied her latest request for a stay of removal on April 26, Rusnok said.
“Sabido has been illegally present in the United States for more than 30 years, and she’s had a final order of removal for more than 13 years,” he wrote in a statement to The Durango Herald. “She has ignored a federal immigration judge’s order to depart the United States since 2002; she ignored the (Board of Immigration Appeals) orders to depart by July 13, 2004; and she ignored the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denial.
“ICE has granted her six one-year stays of removal,” he added. “She has exhausted her appeals from the immigration and appeals courts and from ICE. She is currently an ICE fugitive.”
A stay of deportation is a temporary humanitarian benefit ICE can grant to immigrants who are here illegally and pending deportation. Pursuing repeated stays is not a viable means to permanently postpone deportation; rather, they are meant to give immigrants time to get their affairs in order before returning to their home country.
John F. Kelly, who was appointed secretary of Homeland Security on Jan. 20 by President Donald Trump, has said ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally.
At a news briefing Wednesday in Washington, D.C., acting ICE Director Thomas Homan blasted immigrants who come to the country illegally and stay after their legal options are exhausted.
“You can’t want to be a part of this great nation and not respect its laws,” Homan said. “So when you violate the laws of this country – and the taxpayers in this country spend billions of dollars a year on border security, immigration court, detention. And they go through a process. They get a decision from the immigration judge – most times will appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, then to a circuit court. When that due process is over, that final order from a federal judge needs to mean something or this whole system has no integrity.”
Sabido said she’s not sure what role, if any, Trump administration policies may have played in her case.
She plans to work with the community and congressional offices to request support for a private bill, which, if passed, may result in lawful permanent residency, her lawyer said. She can request a new stay of removal, but even if granted, it is a short-term and impermanent solution, Kain-Rios said.
Shelter at Mancos churchThe United Methodist Church in Mancos is one of only nine churches across the country to publicly provide sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, said the Rev. Craig Paschal of the United Methodist Church in Mancos. But more than 800 churches have identified themselves as “sanctuary churches.”
“Part of the sanctuary is just letting her tell her story publicly and see her goodness,” Paschal said. “We’re asking Immigration to do the right thing. We’re asking short-term for that stay of removal and a pathway to citizenship, and long-term massive overhaul of our immigration law.”
Churches are not legally immune from federal immigration laws, but so far, immigration officials haven’t made a public scene by raiding churches to arrest immigrants in sanctuary.
It is illegal to conceal and harbor illegal immigrants, which is why the church notified ICE that Sabido is living at the church, Paschal said.
“We’re not harboring,” he said. “We’re standing with her in solidarity. We’re standing with her in love, we’re standing with her in compassion, we’re standing with her to embody who we want to be as a community.”
Church members voted earlier this year to become a sanctuary church – several months before learning of Sabido’s story – believing it is best to stand in solidarity with its neighbors, he said.
Sabido and the church asked U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s office for help, but Paschal said he doesn’t view Sabido’s case as a political issue.
“This isn’t about being conservative or liberal, or Republican or Democrat,” he said. “This is about humanity – our shared humanity.
“We hope through Rosa’s story, people can start changing their hearts and minds toward immigration. She represents millions of people – her voice and her story.”
Sabido said she’s fearful but optimistic about staying in the country. She has a strong case for citizenship, she said, including significant community ties and being the daughter of a U.S. citizen, who needs her care.
Postcards are something tourists pick up while on vacation; after 30 years of living in Southwest Colorado, Sabido said she’s ready to call America home.
“I’m stronger than ever,” she said. “I completely believe in God and his wonders. He shows that to me every day.”