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11/18: It Took a Tucson Church and 10,000 Arizonans to Stop the Deportation of Rosa Robles Loreto (3)
Released 27 December 2015  By Elizabeth Stuart – Phoenix New Times

(....Continue from Part Two)

Church members agreed to host Rosa with a nearly unanimous show of hands.

"Christ calls us to care for those who are persecuted and poor," Harrington said. "When we heard this family was going to be torn apart, it seemed like a pretty clear answer to us."

Rosa moved into a tiny back room with a bunk bed, a miniature refrigerator, and a microwave. Gerardo and the boys joined her at Southside on weekends, but between homework and baseball, life was just too hectic for the children to be away from home Monday through Thursday.

Every morning, Rosa called her sons to wake them. She kept them on speakerphone until they left to catch the school bus.

She kept busy during the day helping at Keep Tucson Together, which operated out of the church cafeteria several times a month preparing enchiladas, stews, and salsas for Southside Presbyterian's homeless-feeding program. Each Monday and Friday, she washed and folded hundreds of towels so the down and out could have hot showers. When she found free time, she studied the Bible and listened to audio English lessons.

In the evening, Rosa cooked dinner for her family. Gerardo fetched the food on the way home from work, gave her a kiss, then rushed off to get the boys to Little League practice.

As the weeks stretched to months, Rosa often cried herself to sleep because she missed them so. But, through it all, she never was alone. More than 150 people, not just from Southside, but also from local Catholic, Methodist, Quaker, and Unitarian Universalist congregations, volunteered to take shifts to stay with her at the church morning, afternoon, and night. To remind her of their solidarity, they wrote her prayers on brightly colored pennants and strung them up in the church courtyard where Gerardo Jr. liked to kick around his soccer ball on weekends.

"We pray for Rosa's case to be solved," one parishioner wrote on a yellow flag in permanent marker.

"We pray for all walls and fences to come down between peoples," wrote another.

"Our family sends love to your family," wrote another.

Every evening at 7, community supporters gathered for a vigil.

Sometimes a local poet performed. Once, a singing rabbi stopped by from out of town to strum his guitar for the crowd. Other times, Rosa and her supporters tramped around the facilities in a line singing the South African Hymn Siyahama:

We are marching in the light of God

We are marching in the light of God

We are marching

We are marching Oh Oh

We are marching in the light of God

Meanwhile, Cowan petitioned ICE to rescind Rosa's deportation order. When the request was denied (three days after it was filed), she and Sarah Lanius, a co-founder of Keep Tucson Together, devised a strategy to force the agency's hand.

They had yard signs and banners printed with a declaration: "We stand with Rosa." Parishioners were dispatched to dozens of churches across the city to pass out the signs after worship services. They went door to door in 110-degree weather to disperse them in every corner of Tucson — Dunbar Springs, Santa Rosa, Menlo Park.

Someone took 300 to a Bernie Sanders rally (and even managed to get a few on the stage).

"We stand with Rosa" signs were a hot commodity at city celebrations of César Chávez Day.

Eventually, more than 9,500 Tucsonans had posted them.

"We can honestly say to the government — to Rosa — this whole community wants this family to be reunited," said Leslie Carlson, a 68-year-old member of Southside Presbyterian Church. "Tucson really does stand with Rosa."

The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in September 2014 calling on the Department of Homeland Security to close Rosa's case.

Cowan mailed a copy to ICE.

"Please reconsider," she wrote.

A few weeks later, the Tucson City Council, to the satisfaction of a packed chamber of retirees waving photos of Rosa and her boys, unanimously voted to send a letter to the White House demanding that the mother be allowed to stay. Rosa's deportation, council members argued, not only would tear her family apart, but would cause "further alienation" among many Tucson residents who "live with the constant fear that one of their family members may be, at any time, forcibly removed."

Cowan mailed a copy to ICE.

"Please reconsider," she wrote.

When Tucson's paper of record, the Arizona Daily Star, published an editorial in January supporting Rosa, Cowan mailed a copy to ICE. When local churches collected 7,000 letters from community members pleading on Rosa's behalf, Cowan mailed copies to ICE. When activists collected 12,000 signatures for a petition for her relief, Cowan mailed a copy to ICE.

"Please reconsider," she wrote.

And so it went until, over the course of 15 months, Cowan had sent 25 letters.

"We are like that dog that bites your foot and won't let go," Cowan said. "We never give up."

Respite came without warning or fanfare.

On November 3, Rosa and her supporters joined hands, as they did every night, and prayed that the government would lift the threat of deportation and allow her to return home to her family in Tucson.

On November 4, Rosa, Cowan, and Harrington cried as they learned that, after 461 days living in sanctuary, she'd be able to do just that.

Rosa stayed a week longer while Cowan worked out the kinks in what she stubbornly would describe only as "a confidential agreement" with the Department of Homeland Security. "[Rosa] will remain safely in the United States until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform," Cowan said.

Then, on November 11, she invited all her supporters to join her at the chapel for one last emotional meal of taquitos and rice. She thanked everyone for their support, noting, to the crowd's amusement, that she was excited to see the "We stand with Rosa" signs around town for herself. She vowed to continue to advocate for relief for all undocumented immigrants.

"The struggle continues!" she said.

Harrington blessed her, Gerardo, Gerardo Jr., and Jose Emiliano, painting olive oil crosses on each of their foreheads as tears streamed down her cheeks.

Voice cracking, Harrington quoted the Book of Isaiah: "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

Then, fixing her gaze lovingly on Rosa's little family, she added a verse of her own: "So now go out from this place with peace, no longer in fear, now with joy," she said. "Go out from this place with our deep gratitude . . . Go out from this place with our love and our respect . . . Go out from this place with our blessing."

As Jose Emiliano, now 9 years old, dragged Rosa's little black suitcase across Southside's courtyard and out the rickety wooden gates, Gerardo snapped a photo with his smartphone.

He uploaded it to Facebook and typed in a caption:

"On our way home."


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