Immigrants and their supporters from across Colorado gathered at the Mancos United Methodist Church on Saturday to show solidarity with those at risk of deportation.
A handful of people from sanctuary coalitions in Denver, Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs and Fort Collins arrived Friday in Mancos to spend the weekend meeting with church members and develop strategies to advocate for better immigration policies at the national level.
They held a public event Saturday at the Methodist Church, where Cortez resident Rosa Sabido has been in sanctuary since June to avoid being deported to Mexico after her request for a stay of deportation was denied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Through video conference calls, the roughly 50 people who attended the event heard from two of the other Colorado residents who have claimed sanctuary this year, and expressed ongoing support for their struggle to gain permanent residency in the United States.
The event was organized by the American Friends Service Committee, a national Quaker organization. Jennifer Piper, the American Friends interfaith organizing director, acted as a translator during question-and-answer sessions with Elmer Peña, who is in sanctuary at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs, and Araceli Velasquez, who is living at Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah in Denver. Like Sabido, they claimed sanctuary in churches after their legal avenues for remaining in the United States, such as stays of deportation, ran out earlier this year.
“I came into sanctuary because there were no other options left in my case,” Peña said through Piper’s translation. “But I thought long and hard about what would be best for me and for my family, and I decided to trust in God. I give thanks to God every day for all of the people in this faith community who are trying to help us win our case.”
After every conversation, Piper led the crowd in a chant of “sí, se puede,” or “yes, we can,” adding the name of each immigrant in sanctuary. A fourth Colorado resident in sanctuary, Ingrid Encalada Latorre, wasn’t able to participate in the event, but Piper recorded a video of the crowd chanting her name and said it would be streamed to her location in Fort Collins.
Piper said this was the first time members of all Colorado’s sanctuary communities had met in one place, and she hoped it would not be the last. They chose Mancos as the meeting place, she said, because until Latorre re-entered a church on Oct. 17, Sabido had been in sanctuary longer than anyone else in the state. She said she also felt advocates from the Front Range could learn from Sabido and the people of Mancos.
“It’s a small town,” she said. “I think people here are having a lot more conversations with their neighbors, and we wanted to come and learn more about that and how we can be doing more of that – more opening the space to the whole community.”
She said she planned to leave Mancos with some concrete strategies to advocate for change in immigration laws at the national level.
In the meantime, Sabido asked the crowd to encourage their faith communities to provide sanctuary for immigrants, and to pray for the four who are currently in sanctuary in Colorado.
The night finished with a potluck dinner and live music in the church’s fellowship hall. Many visitors wrote messages for Sabido, Peña, Velasquez and Latorre on the paper hearts that decorated an altar in the church, in honor of the sanctuary communities.
Sabido came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1987 as a visitor to live with her stepfather, Manuel Sabido, who is a legal resident. She took a job as a housekeeper at the Days Inn hotel in Cortez, and later worked for several years each at the Ute Mountain Casino and H&R Block. According to a timeline provided in June by her immigration attorney, Jennifer Kain-Rios, Sabido made several trips to Mexico in the 1990s on a travel visa, and one of those trips lasted longer than 90 days. That broke the 10-year streak of continuous residency required by U.S. immigration law, disrupting one avenue she could have used to acquire permanent legal status. She applied for permanent residency in 2001, but her petition is still pending.