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Sanctuary movement in Tucson may give refuge to third immigrant
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Sanctuary movement in Tucson may give refuge to third immigrant

  • Francisco Perez Cordova, his wife and five children listen as attorney Margo Cowan reads a letter to immigration officials asking to allow Cordova to stay in the country.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comFrancisco Perez Cordova, his wife and five children listen as attorney Margo Cowan reads a letter to immigration officials asking to allow Cordova to stay in the country.
  • Francisco Perez Cordova and his lawyer, Margo Cowan, leave the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Tucson Field Office after submitting a request for a stay of deportation.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comFrancisco Perez Cordova and his lawyer, Margo Cowan, leave the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Tucson Field Office after submitting a request for a stay of deportation.
  • Francisco Perez Cordova stands with Rev. Jim Wiltbank and attorney Margo Cowan, in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Tucson Field Office, after submitting a request for a stay of deportation. Officials said they would forward the document to authorities in Phoenix.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comFrancisco Perez Cordova stands with Rev. Jim Wiltbank and attorney Margo Cowan, in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Tucson Field Office, after submitting a request for a stay of deportation. Officials said they would forward the document to authorities in Phoenix.

A third person may take refuge in a Tucson church if immigration officials do not accept his request for a stay of deportation on Wednesday.

Backed by his lawyer and members of the faith community in Tucson, Francisco Perez Cordova submitted a request for a stay of deportation in person at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Tucson Field Office, 6431 S Country Club Rd.

Authorities accepted the request, but said they did not have the authority to grant a stay.

Instead, the office will forward the request to John Gurule, the acting field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, and Patricia Vroom, chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who are both based in Phoenix.

Until the agency decides to close Cordova's case and grant him a stay of deportation, he could be deported at any time. Cordova has already lived with threat of deportation since November when his lawyer missed a series of deadlines and ICE issued a final order of deportation.

"I was worried when I went in, I wasn't sure if I could come out. I wasn't sure if they would let me leave," Cordova said Wednesday, as his youngest son played with a water bottle at his feet.

"I just worry about my family. Every time I go to work, I don't know if I'll come home to them," said Cordova. 

If a stay does not come by Thursday night, Cordova will take refuge with St. Francis in the Foothills, 4625 E. River Rd., a United Methodist Church.

Rev. Jim Wiltbank, the church's pastor, offered sanctuary to Cordova after the congregation agreed during a vote on Sunday. St. Francis would join Tucson's Southside Presbyterian Church, a church in Tempe, and a number of churches across the nation in a growing new sanctuary movement modeled after a similar movement in the 1980s that offered sanctuary to Central American migrants.

Today, faith groups announced a national coalition of churches in eight cities that will offer refuge to those taking facing deportation.

Officials with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have not responded to requests on Cordova's case, but the agency reiterated a policy that the agency will not conduct enforcement operations at sensitive locations, such as churches. Congress passed a law in 2013 that limits enforcement at schools, hospitals and churches, and requires agents to get prior approval before making arrests in such places.

Cordova, a Mexican national, is married and has five children who are all U.S. citizens. His wife, Sarai Milla, has applied for deferred action status.

Cordova was arrested by Border Patrol agents in July 2009 when his brother-in-law reported a crime. During the investigation, officers with the Tucson Police Department ran checks on the nearby cars and discovering that Cordova's had been registered with a document from Mexico, said Cowan.

When Cordova arrived to get his car, he said, he was arrested by Border Patrol and held in Florence before he was transferred through a series of holding areas because of fears of an H1N1 flu outbreak. Cordova was eventually transferred to holding in Lancaster, Calif., where he stayed for nearly a month before a bond was issued for his release. 

Two weeks ago, still worrying about his family and how he could provide for them in Mexico, Cordova came to the legal clinic hosted by Southside Presbyterian.

Cordova came to the United States in 1995 to work construction, hoping to make enough to support his mother, recently widowed when her husband died of brain cancer.

While her husband was inside the immigration office, Milla thanked supporters before bursting into tears. After 45 minutes, Cordova walked out of the office with Cowan.

Cordova would join Rosa Robles Loreto, who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church for 46 days, and Luis Lopez-Acabal, a 24-year-old Guatemalan who went into sanctuary in Tempe nearly two weeks ago.

In May, another Tucson man went into sanctuary in Tucson.  After nearly a month at the church, immigration officials granted Daniel Neyoy Ruiz a one-year stay of his deportation order. 

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