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11/18: It Took a Tucson Church and 10,000 Arizonans to Stop the Deportation of Rosa Robles Loreto (2)
Released 27 December 2015  By Elizabeth Stuart Phoenix New Times

(....Continue from Part One)

Rosa spent 60 days in detention before a judge released her on a $3,000 bond. Gerardo, a sturdy man with an easy demeanor, was so worried that he often forgot to eat or brush his hair.

"Promise me they are treating you well," he pleaded during their nightly short phone calls. "Promise me you aren't being beaten."

She promised, determined to be strong for her family. But when she hung up the phone, she broke down sobbing.

Rosa met Margo Cowan at a December 2011 protest organized through the lawyer's nonprofit legal clinic, Keep Tucson Together. Rosa, whose case still was working its way through the courts, joined her and hundreds of others to march three miles from Santa Monica Church to ICE's Tucson field office waving homemade poster-board signs and chanting boisterously to halt deportations.

Cowan, a slight woman with a mop of gray curls, a friendly, crooked smile, and an affinity for tie-dye, was thrust into the immigration debate in the 1970s when, as a 23-year-old, she took over the operation of an anti-poverty clinic in Tucson's Barrio Hollywood.

"We helped people with whatever they needed," she said, which sometimes meant organizing recreation programs for children and sometimes meant helping undocumented immigrants get access healthcare or navigate the legal system.

She hadn't been at it long before Border Patrol raided the center and indicted her and several colleagues on 52 felony counts of transporting, aiding, and abetting illegal aliens. Cowan, who previously had coordinated strikes for the Farm Workers Union in California, quickly rallied the masses and persuaded President Carter's attorney general to drop the charges.

Inspired in part by the ordeal, she earned a law degree and now works full time as a Pima County public defender representing undocumented immigrants accused of serious crimes, such as murder and armed robbery.

In the months leading up to the march on ICE's offices, President Obama, cuffed by Congress in his attempts to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, quietly began working through back channels to "reduce the threat of removal for certain individuals present in the United States without authorization," according to a leaked Department of Homeland Security memo.

As a first step, in the summer of 2011, ICE Director John Morton issued a historic memorandum instructing agency employees to use discretion to determine when to prosecute immigrants and when to close their cases, or, in effect, look the other way. Morton specifically called on ICE attorneys and employees to refrain from pursuing those, like Rosa, with strong community ties and no criminal histories.

Nearly as soon as the memos were released, Cowan launched Keep Tucson Together to help immigrants prove to officials that they contributed positively to society and deserved to stay.

Many defense lawyers, however, ignored the administrative policy changes and continued to advise clients according to the letter of the law, she said. Some acted on principle, decrying the move as de facto amnesty achieved only because Obama bypassed the country's democratically elected leaders. But, for many, it was a matter of simple economics, Cowan said. Lawyers make more money taking their clients to court than requesting their cases be closed administratively.

"You fulfill your ethical obligations under the law, then you pick up more clients," she said. "It's a sound business model but it doesn't keep families together."

If defense attorneys didn't push to close a case under Morton's guidelines, according to a 2011 survey conducted by the American Immigration Lawyer's Association, prosecutors were highly unlikely to make the suggestion on their own. In fact, many officials actively resisted the policy change, saying their jobs were "to arrest and deport."

The patterns persisted as Obama went on to issue executive orders granting temporary stays of deportation and work permits to certain undocumented immigrants, such as those who came to the United States illegally as children and those who gave birth to U.S. citizens, said Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the AILA.

"In the end, the decision whether to prosecute is made by the government official looking at the case so we're getting a really mixed bag of results," he said. "In some areas, there is a careful review of cases. In others, there's still a tendency to throw the book at everybody who comes in front a judge."

Rosa and Gerardo are textbook case studies illustrating uneven application.

Although Rosa clearly qualified for relief under the parameters of Obama's policies, her lawyer did not argue the issue, Cowan said. Instead, after a number of preliminary hearings stretched out over several years, Rosa's counsel marched her into court and asked the judge to allow her to depart the United States voluntarily.

Blindsided by her lawyer's move, Rosa penned a frantic appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. She was given 60 days to leave the country.

In 2012, Gerardo also had been pulled over by a traffic cop, detained by Border Patrol, and thrown into deportation proceedings. He didn't hire a lawyer, however. He went to Keep Tucson Together, where clinic volunteers helped him argue that, as a taxpaying father of two, he shouldn't be a priority for deportation under the Obama administration's policies.

His case was closed.

Three days before Rosa's deadline to depart, she and Gerardo went to Cowan at her community action headquarters, a cheery, sky blue adobe house decorated with anti-SB 1070 and pro-Obama propaganda. In the front window, signs proclaimed: "We reject racism!" and "Human rights respected here!" A faded black doormat read: "Come back with a warrant."

"We got this letter," Gerardo told Cowan, sliding Rosa's final removal order across the attorney's desk. "We're not sure what to do."

Under the gaze of a 15-inch-tall Our Lady of Guadalupe statue, Cowan laid out the options:

1. Leave.

2. Hide. "Move to a different house," she said. "Move the kids to a different school. Keep moving and watching and praying that ICE doesn't send a dozen agents to grab you in the middle of the night."

3. Claim sanctuary at a church and apply for a stay of deportation.

After a night of tossing and turning, Rosa decided.

"I can't leave my kids," she told Cowan. "I can't hide. I'm not going to accept this."

Cowan called Southside's pastor, the Reverend Alison Harrington, who just a few months earlier had hosted another undocumented immigrant attempting to avoid deportation. "Are you ready to do this again?"

Harrington took the question to her congregation.

A small church of about 160 worshipers, Southside is a progressive community that not only offers weekly prayers for refugees fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere but also regularly sends jeeploads of volunteers into the desert to search for migrants who have lost their way or have been abandoned by their colleagues.

"We are Samaritans!" churchgoers call as they navigate saguaros and prickly pears, referencing a parable taught by Jesus Christ where a man rescues an enemy who has been beaten and left for dead. "We are here to help!"

The word "sanctuary" is embroidered on the cloth draped over the church's communion table and its practice is held sacred.

In the 1980s, Southside's then-pastor, the Reverend John Fife, worked with Cowan to build an underground railroad to help people escape U.S.-trained and -funded death squads in Central America. Thousands of migrants slept on Southside's pews, and thousands more found refuge in 500 other churches the Tucsonans recruited nationwide. (For their efforts, Fife and 15 other activists later were indicted for smuggling aliens.)

(Continue to Part Three....)


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