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Sanctuary cases have new future after Obama address
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Sanctuary cases have new future after Obama address

  • Rosa Robles Loreto, her husband Gerardo and their youngest son, Jose Emiliano watch President Obama's speech on Thursday at Southside Presbyterian Church.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comRosa Robles Loreto, her husband Gerardo and their youngest son, Jose Emiliano watch President Obama's speech on Thursday at Southside Presbyterian Church.

While President Obama pressed Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform during a speech in Las Vegas on Thursday, attorney Margo Cowan was planning new legal pathways to blunt deportation orders for the two people now in sanctuary at Tucson churches.

"By 11 a.m. there were 108 messages at the office for me," said Cowan after a press conference at Southside Presbyterian Church, an activist congregation at the heart of a new sanctuary movement that began last May. "It's a good thing they like what I do," Cowan said.

Cowan was at the church to follow up with her client, Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto, who has spent 106 days in sanctuary there since a voluntary removal order expired in early August, making her subject to immediate deportation. Cowan also represents Francisco Perez Cordova, who went into sanctuary at St. Francis of the Foothills on Sept. 25. 

Thursday, the president announced executive action that will could protect 4.3 million people from deportation under a system similar to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created in 2012.

Among the changes announced by Obama, the administration will allow parents of citizens and legal residents who have been in the United States at least five years to avoid deportation. The program also expands the DACA program to cover undocumented immigrants who are over 30 and those who entered after 2007, but before 2011. Under the current program, officials have approved 21,000 applications in Arizona alone, and another 4,000 were accepted in June.

Around 136,000 people will be covered by the changes in Arizona, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute, including 97,000 parents of legal residents and another 39,000 covered by the expansion of DACA.

While millions are included in the program, at least 5.8 million people in the United States without authorization will not be covered, according to the Pew Research Center. 

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent a letter to the directors of the immigration arm of the agency outlining the new directives for the apprehension, detention and removal of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The letter included the sweeping removal of the Morton memo, a set of enforcement priorities created in 2011 and named for its author, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

In its place is a different set of priorities for deportation. This includes focusing on serious criminals and those with multiple misdemeanor convictions, as well as people who have failed to abide by a final order of removal issued on or after Jan. 1, 2014.

While the third priority would appear to affect both Robles Loreto and Cordova, the memo also includes an important caveat: an immigration officer may decide that there are "factors suggesting the alien should not be an enforcement priority" or neither are a threat to the "integrity of the immigration system."

"This action replaces the Morton memo and expands it," Cowan said. "It's the Morton memo, plus."

"From yesterday to today, Rosa became a DACA mom," Cowan said. Rosa's two sons, Gerardo Jr. and Jose Emiliano, 11 and 8, are now eligible for deferred action because of the president's move, and Cowan believes this creates a legal basis for both Rosa and her husband Gerardo to stay in the country. 

Cowan said she will apply immediately to gain deferred action status for the boys though it will take at least 90 days for the order to come into effect.

Meanwhile, Cordova is immediately eligible for deferment because his five children are all U.S. citizens and thus his ties to the United States will override his deportation order. 

However, Cordova will stay at the church until they receive some communication from Jon Gurule, the acting field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations in Phoenix, or Patricia Vroom, chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

If that communication comes as a formal stay of deportation or simply a letter that Cordova can carry to show immigration authorities, Cowan wants there to be "assurances" that Cordova won't be deported back to Mexico.

Cowan will also push Gurule to reconsider Robles Loreto's case, especially since the new immigration law is a significant change.

"We have to see what kind of teeth this system has," said Sarah Launius, who works closely with the church's legal clinic. "The proof will be what we see on the ground."

Cowan also noted that Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, who was given a stay of deportation by immigration authorities after 26 days in sanctuary in May, is also protected by the changes since his son is a U.S. citizen.

Meanwhile, volunteers at Southside Presbyterian are considering their next moves for the first legal clinic to follow the president's orders, scheduled for Dec. 6.

They expect a bigger crowd and many questions, Launius said.

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