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Undocumented family goes into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian

With a deportation order still hanging over her head, an undocumented Tucson women went into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church on Thursday night.

Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto, her husband Gerardo and their two sons entered the church to the applause of around 100 supporters and more than a dozen religious leaders from around Tucson.

The family will stay on church grounds until immigration officials agree to close her case, said Margo Cowan, the family's attorney.

On Wednesday, Cowan submitted a formal request to immigration officials in Phoenix and Tucson for "administrative closure."

By Thursday night the government had not responded.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Amber Cargile, said that the agency "is conducting a comprehensive review of Ms. Robles Loreto’s case to determine appropriate next steps.”

Loreto meets many of the qualifications usually considered for administrative closure, Cowan said. She came into the country on a visa, her two sons will be eligible for deferred action when they turn 18, she has worked continuously as a housekeeper and has paid taxes, according to Cowan.

Also, Gerardo helps coach a little league team and the couple own their home, said Cowan.

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"We need all of you to stand up and support this family until the government realizes that this is a mistake," Cowan told supporters. "We ask the president, as a father of two beautiful children, to help close this case."

"Our leaders are taking a vacation and eating barbecue while our families are suffering," said Father Tom Tureman of Most Holy Trinity Parish. "This is a moral issue, we cannot split apart families and we need our leaders to get to work."

"We don't think it's a crime for a mother to want to provide for her children and her husband. We're responding to the call of our faith to love our neighbor as ourselves," said Rev. Allison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Presbyterian.

Along with supporters was the Neyoy Ruiz family, who stayed on church grounds for 26 days earlier this year, until immigration officials finally agreed to close Daniel Neyoy Ruiz's case June 9.

Neyoy Ruiz, his wife Karla and their son Carlos lit a candle during a ceremony and prayer vigil in the church. Karla told the family in Spanish that she was proud of the Loreto family and thanked them for "standing up and coming out of the shadows."

Neyoy Ruiz received a stay for one year and was given a work permit. Next year, it will be up to the agency to decide if he can remain in the country. 

A Mexican national, Loreto and her husband have lived in the United States almost continually since 1999, except for a three-year period when she stayed in Mexico for the births of her two sons, now ages 11 and 8.

The family has already had trouble with immigration authorities when Gerardo was stopped in a separate incident, however, his case was closed because he met the same conditions for administrative closure, said Cowan.

In such cases, ICE has wide discretion on removal orders based on a 2011 memo issued by former ICE Director John Morton. Immigration officials can consider a person's ties and contributions to the community, as well as criminal history, to make a determination.

Additionally, the memo outlined places that were considered "sensitive" including schools, hospitals and churches where immigration officials would not make arrests unless they had prior approval. The memo outlined some exceptions to this rule, namely national security, pursuit of a felon, destruction of evidence, or the possibility that someone could be harmed. That policy was passed into law in 2013.

Rosa said she feared going back to Mexico where there were few opportunities for her family.

"My life is here, my family is here," she said. "I've been here for 15 years and I have nothing in Mexico. I don't have any life there."

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto, her husband Gerardo and their two sons will stay on church grounds until immigration officials agree to close the deportation case against her.

“I’ve been here for 15 years and I have nothing in Mexico. I don’t have any life there.”

— Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto