Immigrant leader takes sanctuary at Carbondale church

After years of fighting deportation proceedings, a Silt mother and immigrant activist has taken sanctuary at Carbondale’s Two River Unitarian Universalist church. She is the fifth immigrant in Colorado to take sanctuary this year.

Sandra Lopez, a mother of three and 16-year Roaring Fork Valley resident has been facing removal proceedings since she was arrested in 2010. Lopez says that she was wrongfully arrested, and though charges were eventually dropped, she was still listed for deportation proceedings.

Garfield County Court records show that Lopez was arrested on misdemeanor criminal mischief, and that the district attorney quickly dropped the charge. Lopez says the arrest occurred after one of her children mistakenly dialed 911, then hung up.

State law at the time forced police officers to report undocumented immigrants to federal immigration officials, according to the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, which Lopez has been working with as a local activist.

“The system immigration, it’s absolutely broke,” Lopez, originally from Mexico, said to a crowd outside of the church’s parsonage in Carbondale on Tuesday evening. “They are separating a lot of families. Deportation is for criminal people. That’s not true. I’m not criminal people; that’s why I’m showing my face.”

After Lopez has fought for years to stay in the country, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied her stay of removal last week. “When ICE denied my stay of removal, I cried a lot,” she said. “I was in shock. That night my mind was blank. I couldn’t sleep.” Lopez had a check-in meeting with ICE the next morning. But while getting her 13-year-old son ready for school, she decided to take sanctuary with Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist instead, unable to tell him what she was about to do.

“We are proud to support Sandra and to have been able to keep her here,” said Glenwood Springs immigration attorney Jennifer Smith, who is representing Lopez. “We don’t understand why the government is treating her differently this year from prior years. We will do what we can to fight her case, bring new evidence, reopen it, do everything we can to keep them together, because the system is broken.”

“Sandra is very brave to do what she’s doing,” Smith announced to the crowd Tuesday evening. “And I hope that it pushes Congress to take some action…We don’t need talk. We don’t need politics. We need action.”

“While she pursues all options in her case to gain lawful status in the (U.S.), she asks (ICE) to use their discretion and renew her stay of removal,” CIRC wrote in a statement.

“Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances,” said Carl Rusnok, a Dallas-based ICE spokesman.

Rusnok said those sensitive locations include places of worship, schools and hospitals.

Lopez, along with her 2-year-old daughter, is taking sanctuary at the church parsonage, after the church’s congregation decided offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in March. While she is living at the church parsonage, she’s unable to work, and she cannot go outside.

“Offering sanctuary to Sandra is an expression of our faith,” Reverend Shawna Foster, Minister at Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist, wrote in a statement. “We seek to unify community towards common goals of peace and justice. We need immigration reform so that this valley can stay together – deportations tear us and our families apart. Spiritually, we must always act in ways that uphold the inherent worth and dignity of each person. Offering sanctuary is to offer a way for those in power to consider justice, not legalities.

“By taking sanctuary, I am showing my face. I am not running, I am not hiding. I’m fighting for my family, and all the immigrant families facing separation due to an unjust system,” Lopez said in a written statement. “We need to unite, come together as a community to protect each other, to keep fighting for humanitarian relief and humanitarian application of immigration laws. I’m fighting for my children, to be with them and with my husband. In these times, it’s difficult to maintain strong families for so many reasons; why would our government be attempting to separate us when we are working to provide a good home and life for our children? I don’t understand it, and I feel it deeply in my heart.”

“We need this system to be fixed, this immigration system that has been broken for many, many years. And now under the administration of Trump it is even harder,” she said Tuesday.

Mexico, with all of its violence, is not a good place for children, said Lopez. “Of the thousands of people being deported, so many of them are losing their lives because of that violence.”

“They can block my dreams, but they cannot diminish the spirit of a mother, because she loves her children,” Lopez said Tuesday.

“It’s not easy for me to stay over here…and for my family, it’s not fair,” she said through tears. “Because I’m not criminal people…I’m not running. I’m not hiding. They know where I am. They know where I am.”

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