Desperate To Avoid Deportation, She Hasn't Left Sanctuary For 8 Months Immigration officials have a rule against detaining people who seek sanctuary in houses of worship. A congregation in Colorado is testing the strength of that tradition under the Trump administration.
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Desperate To Avoid Deportation, She Hasn't Left Sanctuary For 8 Months

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Desperate To Avoid Deportation, She Hasn't Left Sanctuary For 8 Months

Desperate To Avoid Deportation, She Hasn't Left Sanctuary For 8 Months

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to go back to the immigration issue for a few more minutes in the U.S. This is about a tiny chapter of the story playing out in a quiet place far from the southern border in a church in Colorado. There, one woman is avoiding deportation by taking sanctuary in a house of worship. She's one of about three dozen people around the country. Aspen Public Radio's Wyatt Orme has this report on how this congregation is testing the strength of sanctuary under the Trump administration.

WYATT ORME, BYLINE: At the kitchen table in the Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist parsonage, Sandra Lopez is learning English.

SANDRA LOPEZ: Madrid is the capital of Spain.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Spain.

S. LOPEZ: Spain.

ORME: The lesson is a welcome distraction from the boredom she faces each day. She says it's the worst part of sanctuary.

S. LOPEZ: (Through interpreter) When you enter sanctuary, you know the date, the hour the minute. But you don't know when you're going to leave. It could be months. It could be years.

ORME: Lopez and her husband came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1998. All three of their children were born here. Her deportation order dates back to 2010. One night that year, police reported her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, after responding to her home. She and her husband had been arguing, and one of her kids got scared and called 911. For years, ICE granted her stays of removal until last fall when they denied her request.

S. LOPEZ: (Through interpreter) It's as if they threw a glass of cold water in my face.

ORME: That's when Lopez and her daughter, who was 2 at the time, moved into Rev. Shawna Foster's basement in the town of Carbondale, Colorado. ICE has a policy of avoiding what are called sensitive locations - places like hospitals, schools and churches. In an email, ICE confirmed they still follow this policy. So Lopez might be safe from ICE inside the parsonage, but it could be years before she can safely leave. And that's the risk the congregation ran by taking her in. But Reverend Foster, who lives at the parsonage with her family, says doing so was a clear moral duty.

SHAWNA FOSTER: If Sandra's deported, that's three children without a mom. Is that really what you want? Is that your sense of justice? Is that what the laws are for?

ORME: The congregation eagerly accepted Lopez and her daughter. What tension did exist had mostly to do with fear of government retaliation, like ICE going after Foster for harboring someone illegally.

SUE EDELSTEIN: My concern was not, oh, oh, we might get in trouble. It was, if the worst happens, where do we stand, and how do we handle it?

ORME: Sue Edelstein was on the board of Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist. She wanted her pastor to understand all the risks before taking them. After all, Shawna Foster could go to jail, leaving her own children without a parent. It's a risk she's willing to take.

FOSTER: That's what happens to people who are deported every day. Every day in this country there are kids left without parents. And how could I just say, well, no, I'm not going to take that risk when I can see it's happening here in this very community?

ALEX LOPEZ: Going through this, it's actually so infuriating that I don't even know how to put it in words. I just don't.

ORME: Alex Lopez is Sandra's oldest son. He's 20. He was in school studying to become a mechanic, but when his mom went into sanctuary, she stopped working and couldn't help him pay tuition, so he dropped out. The congregation has raised thousands of dollars. They're helping Sandra's family make ends meet with one fewer income earner and also paying for her legal expenses. Alex is deeply moved by all of the support his mom is getting.

A. LOPEZ: I don't know how to explain it - like, the way that Shawna came around and is basically, like, supporting my mom. That's (sobbing) I just don't know what to say.

ORME: But that doesn't make it any less painful to see his mom confined like she is. For Sandra Lopez and her family, sanctuary is a gift but also its own form of detention.

For NPR News, I'm Wyatt Orme in Carbondale, Colo.

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