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Undocumented woman marks 100 days in sanctuary in Tucson church
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Undocumented woman marks 100 days in sanctuary in Tucson church

  • Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto holds some of the 100 roses given to her by supporters to mark the 100 days she has been in sanctuary at a southside church.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comRosa Imelda Robles Loreto holds some of the 100 roses given to her by supporters to mark the 100 days she has been in sanctuary at a southside church.
  • Irma Tujab, a Guatemalan immigrant hands a rose to a supporter at Southside Presbyterian Church.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comIrma Tujab, a Guatemalan immigrant hands a rose to a supporter at Southside Presbyterian Church.
  • Two Catholic nuns offer roses to Rosa Robles Loreto, an undocumented woman who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comTwo Catholic nuns offer roses to Rosa Robles Loreto, an undocumented woman who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson.

For 100 days, Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto has stayed on the grounds of Southside Presbyterian Church, waiting and hoping for some reprieve from the deportation order that sent her into sanctuary in August.

Supporters and faith leaders marked the stretch of time Saturday morning.

While officials from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have repeatedly said that the agency has "no plans" to take her into custody, Robles Loreto will stay in the church until she is granted a stay and her formal order of removal is rescinded, said attorney Margo Cowan.

"Here we are, 100 days after accepting Rosa into sanctuary," said Rev. Allison Harrington, the pastor for Southside Prebysterian. "We didn't think we'd be here. We thought after all our letters and prayers that we wouldn't be here. But we are still." 

More than 120 faith leaders, community leaders, and supporters came to Southside Presbyterian, 317 W. 23rd St., on Saturday to mark the days that have passed since Robles Loreto began staying on church grounds.

Church clergy, including more than a dozen Catholic nuns, gave Robles Loreto 100 rose in a homage to the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated by Catholics in Mexico and the United States.

Representatives for Tucson City Council members Karin Uhlich, Steve Kozachik, and Regina Romero also offered roses, along with representatives for Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías and U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Members of Derechos Humanos, No More Deaths, and the Service Employes International Union also offered roses. 

Throughout Robles Loreto's stay at the church, supporters have pushed hard to get her a reprieve.

In September, supporters for Robles Loreto got the Tucson City Council and the Pima Board of Supervisors to send memos to the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Along with the memos, supporters sent nearly 7,000 of letters in support of Robles Loreto.

Despite this, ICE officials have reiterated an August statement based a June 2014 decision by an immigration appeals board, which required Robles Loreto to leave the United States by August 8, 2014.

According to the agency, an immigration judge with the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review found that Robles Loreto could be removed from the United States, but granted her a voluntary departure. She appealed the order, but in June it converted into an order of removal.

“After conducting a thorough review of Ms. Robles Loreto’s immigration case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion by not taking immediate action on Ms. Robles Loreto’s removal order," said Lori K. Haley, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The agency had asked Robles Loreto to "check in" in September, however she remained at the church and Cowan and other supporters went in her stead, a move the agency accepted.

Cowan has said that the agency's assurances offers her client little protection.

Robles Loreto was one of four people who took sanctuary nationwide in August and September, part of a growing network of churches that have decided to act in response to the lack of administrative and congressional action on immigration reform.

The movement expanded from Tucson to Tempe and then nationwide to Denver and Chicago. 

In Tucson, Daniel Neyoy Ruiz was given sanctuary in May and was later granted a one-year stay.

Two other men, who both went into sanctuary in September are also still waiting. 

Luis Lopez Acabal went into sanctuary at the University Presbyterian Church in Tempe on Sept. 11 and Francisco Perez Cordova went into sanctuary on Sept. 25 at St. Francis of the Foothills in Tucson.

In Chicago, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission was able to delay the deportation of Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, a Mexican citizen, until immigration officials allowed her to apply to a visa program awarded to victims of domestic violence.

Even as Ramirez waited for a work visa and a stay of deportation, the church offered sanctuary to Miguel Sanchez Olguin, a Mexican citizen who has lived in the United States for 16 years, who said a return to Mexico could cost him his life. 

In the post-election environment, President Obama's political calculus to delay executive action to protect House and Senate Democrats could run aground against a fractional Republican majority determined to either thwart the president's action.

"These 100 days are about Rosa's courage," said Rev. Allison Harrington, the pastor for Southside Prebysterian. "And, President Obama, we are just asking for one day of courage from you."

"I don't want to think of weeks and months," said Robles Loreto. "I just go day by day." 

Cowan, an immigration lawyer who has been instrumental in the sanctuary movement for people in Tucson, said she hoped the White House would act soon.

Robles Loreto thanked supporters at the church, as well as her lawyer for her work. "Margo told me, 'you are not leaving. I'm going to work with you on this.' And, I'm so thankful that she's been here for me."

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.

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.

That policy was passed into law in 2013 by Congress.

The regulations outline places that are considered "sensitive," including schools, hospitals and churches, where immigration officials would not make arrests unless they had prior approval. The regulations outline some exceptions to this rule, namely national security, pursuit of a felon, destruction of evidence, or the possibility that someone could be harmed.

According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan research project supported by Syracuse University, during September 2014 the government reported 8,979 immigration cases, a large number of these were charges for reentering the country.

Numbers from the Department of Homeland Security show that around 1.8 million people have been removed from the United States by the Obama administration, at a pace of nearly 1,000 people per day.

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