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11/18: It Took a Tucson Church and 10,000 Arizonans to Stop the Deportation of Rosa Robles Loreto (1)
Released 27 December 2015  By Elizabeth Stuart Phoenix New Times

It Took a Tucson Church and 10,000 Arizonans to Stop the Deportation of Rosa Robles Loreto

Elizabeth Stuart Phoenix New Times
Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rosa Robles Loreto packed one pair of pajamas, one pair of shoes, two pairs of pants, and four blouses into a small, black suitcase. She could do without her hair dryer and the bulky pot of face cream she usually slathered on before bed, she decided as she eyed the already overstuffed bag. No need for a sweater. It was August, and the temperature in Tucson was hovering around 100 degrees.

Bidding farewell to her two sons, 8-year-old Jose Emiliano and 11-year-old Gerardo Jr., wasn't particularly emotional. Rosa just kissed their cheeks and rattled off a motherly list of reminders: Obey your father, take regular baths, brush your teeth, wear clean clothes, don't be late to school, do your homework.

She'd be gone only a week, she told them a month at the most.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had ordered Rosa deported to her native Mexico. She refused to go quietly. Instead, in an effort to pressure the agency to reconsider, she rolled her suitcase through the rickety wooden gates of Southside Presbyterian Church in 2014 and claimed sanctuary.

Rosa's lawyer, Margo Cowan, already had achieved a number of victories using the tactic. Although no law bars ICE from sending squads of masked M-16-wielding agents into chapels to drag off immigrants, as Cowan pointed out, "Doing that would be a public relations nightmare." ICE halted one man's deportation after he'd spent 28 days living at Southside, giving periodic press conferences. Several immigrants didn't even make it to the church before the government backed down.

"All it took was a whisper of the word 'sanctuary,'" Cowan said.

But for Rosa, things didn't work out so simply. More than a year later, her husband still was raising the kids on his own, and she had decorated the tiny back room where she lived at Southside with knickknacks and framed photos.

Her story highlights troubling inconsistencies in the application of immigration policies instituted under President Obama.

While the administration deported undocumented immigrants at record rates, Obama ordered law enforcement officials to focus resources on deporting those with felony rap sheets. Through new protocols and programs, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants temporary work permits to immigrants who came to the country illegally as children, he attempted to give a break to immigrants with strong family and community ties, like Rosa.

But because the policies rely on the discretion of prosecutors and judges who don't all agree with Obama's approach, there is no rhyme or reason to who gets relief and who doesn't. Immigrants with no strikes against them frequently are deported, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association. At the same time, some immigrants with criminal backgrounds are allowed to stay.

"It's chaos," Cowan said. "We've got a very harsh statutory scheme that's not working. We've got a president who's trying to give immigrants some options. But then we've still got traffic cops turning them in to Border Patrol and lawyers telling them, 'We can't help you.'"

Rosa was born in a small mountain village in the Mexican state of Sonora, where few, including her mother and father, attended school past fourth grade and where many got married by age 16.

When she was 2 months old, her parents, struggling to feed her and her two older siblings, moved to Hermosillo, Sonora's humming capital, to find work. Her father secured a small patch of land through a government anti-poverty program and built a shack out of cardboard. Working 12-hour construction shifts, he slowly saved money and, bit by bit, converted the makeshift abode into a cozy three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. By the time it was finished, Rosa had three more siblings.

Beginning at age 9, the children worked in the morning and went to school in the evening. Rosa's brothers joined her father in the construction business, and she and her sisters were hired at a spice factory across the street from their home. With tiny, nimble fingers, they measured ground cinnamon and chili powder into plastic bags, sealed the packages, and stapled on brightly colored labels.

Rosa met her husband, Gerardo, when the bus that took her to and from high school broke down. He offered her a ride home in his pickup truck. They talked every day until graduation, every day through college (where Rosa majored in accounting), and every day for six years post-study, until they realized they didn't ever want to stop.

Rosa always had dreamed of a fancy wedding, with a fluffy tulle dress, a tiara in her hair, a hired band, and beans and barbacoa for 600 guests but money was tight.

To save up, they would spend their vacations with Gerardo's aunt in Tucson, just a five-hour drive over the border. In just one week tending children and cleaning houses in the United States, Rosa could earn the same wages she made in a month working at a bank in Mexico.

Each time the couple visited, using visas to make the cross, Gerardo's aunt would ask, "Why don't you just stay?" In 1999, they did.

They trawled yard sales to furnish a studio apartment. After a while, they welcomed Gerardo Jr. and Jose Emiliano to the family. They worked long hours but found time in the evenings to shuttle their boys to Little League practices. Gerardo coached. Rosa made snacks for the young athletes and cheered exuberantly from the stands.

At first, while scrubbing toilets, Rosa daydreamed about the banking career she'd left in Mexico, where she'd donned lipstick and a suit and felt intellectually stimulated. Eventually, though, she stopped thinking of her decision to immigrate as a sacrifice.

"This is a gift I am giving my children," she said. "They will have a better life here."

As Rosa's family settled in, Arizona's intolerance for undocumented immigrants intensified. In 2004, voters passed a ballot initiative requiring state and local officials to verify immigration status before administering public benefits. Those who failed the test were reported to the federal government.

In 2007, the Arizona Legislature imposed heavy sanctions on employers who hired people like Rosa and Gerardo. Then, in 2010, former Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the contentious Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, better known as Senate Bill 1070. The act made it a crime to be in Arizona without proper paperwork and charged police with checking immigration status during all lawful stops, detentions, and arrests.

In Tucson, which then had one of the country's highest detention rates, it already was common for police to turn over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to local lawyers. But the legislative debate fueled law enforcement's enthusiasm. So, even though the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union immediately raised questions about SB 1070's constitutionality in court, Rosa and Gerardo started limiting trips outside the house and drove only when absolutely necessary.

At 6 a.m. on September 2, 2010, Rosa paused in a construction zone on her way to a housecleaning appointment. As she tried to discern which way the orange cones were directing her, she spotted red and blue police lights in her rearview mirror. Her thoughts lurched immediately to her children. What if she was deported? What would they do without her?

Rosa hadn't done anything wrong, but the officer asked for her identification anyway. She supplied her Mexican driver's license.

"Are you in the country illegally?" he asked.

She couldn't deny it. "Please!" she begged. "Please, give me a ticket! Please, don't call Border Patrol!"

(Continue Part Two....)

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