Sanctuary leader Sandra Lopez speaks to reporters during a press conference at which Colorado sanctuary leaders who were granted a stay of removal announced next steps in their efforts to remain in the U.S., on Dec. 29, 2021, at First Unitarian Church in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Three Colorado sanctuary leaders were granted one-year stays of removal earlier this month, meaning they can legally remain in the country throughout 2022 without the threat of deportation.
“As we’re sitting here in gratitude for these stays of removal that were granted in these cases, we also want to extend gratitude to the Biden administration as well as our congressional representatives who have been instrumental in securing these approvals,” Jennifer Wadhwa, an attorney with the immigration law firm that represents Jeanette Vizguerra-Ramirez and Arturo Hernandez Garcia, said during an event celebrating the decisions at the First Unitarian Society of Denver on Wednesday afternoon.
“We are excited for our clients to be able to spend this next year without the threat of imminent removal over their heads as they continue to fight their cases,” she said.
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Sanctuary is a practice when undocumented immigrants seek refuge in a house of worship after they exhaust all other legal options in their immigration case. During the Trump administration, some immigrants went into sanctuary in response to harsher immigration policies and enforcement.
These new decisions come 11 months after Democrats from Colorado’s congressional delegation sent a letter urging the Biden administration to lift deportation orders or grant stays of removal for five Colorado immigrants who sought sanctuary: Ingrid Encalada Latorre, Rosa Sabido, Sandra Lopez, Vizguerra-Ramirez and Hernandez Garcia.
Encalada Latorre, who lives at a church in Boulder, received a stay of removal in November. Sabido, who lives in Mancos, also received a stay earlier this year.
This latest round grants Vizguerra-Ramirez, Hernandez Garcia and Lopez their stays.
“We appreciate that they have lived in Colorado for decades, enriching our economy and adding value to our communities. These stays of removal will provide temporary relief for their families and my office is honored to be here today to welcome this new chapter for each of them,” constituent advocate Erika Blum said on behalf of Rep. Joe Neguse. She added that Neguse will continue to fight for their permanent legal status, as well as for a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.
Wadhwa said the decisions are evidence of a more immigrant-friendly position from the Biden administration.
“From our perspective, these decisions represent a return to common sense in immigration and really looking at each case, understanding who the person is that is facing deportation and asking whether it’s right, whether it’s just, whether it’s fair and appropriate — rather than what we saw with our last administration, which was just a push to deport,” Wadhwa said.
Lopez entered sanctuary in 2018 at Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist church in Carbondale, where she remained for 10 months with her daughter. On Wednesday, she said she was surprised to receive the stay.
“It’s like a Christmas gift, a New Year’s gift, a gift that fell from the sky, a gift for one year,” Lopez said through an interpreter, surrounded by supporters in the church sanctuary still decorated with holiday wreaths and garlands.
While a stay of removal grants an undocumented immigrant temporary security, it doesn’t mean they will get permanent legal status or have their deportation order lifted. It simply means they can remain in the country without the threat of removal.
“I want to appreciate and live this moment,” Lopez said, holding back tears. “Because it’s just this moment for one year. I want to live each of these days with the peace I know comes from this one year.”
Vizguerra-Ramirez, an activist who acts as one of the faces for the sanctuary movement, emphasized that the stay grants her another year to advocate for immigration reform and opportunities for not only sanctuary seekers but all undocumented immigrants.
“Even though it’s just one year, it’s a year that we can keep fighting for our family, keep fighting for our community,” she said through an interpreter. “We, the people who are immigrants, have sustained this country, many of us on the front lines of jobs during this pandemic. We were out there, in the workplace, day after day, facing COVID, getting sick, and some of us dying. We deserve a pathway to citizenship. We deserve changes from this Congress right now.”
Lopez and Vizguerra-Ramirez celebrated with family and supports on Wednesday afternoon with food, flowers and a traditional Indigenous blessing. They also had a cake for the occasion, topped with a raised fist with a pattern reading “No justice, no peace” and a word in bold red: resilientes, Spanish for “resilient.”
“I want to be clear that my fight has not ended here and it has not ended today,” Vizguerra-Ramirez said. “It will continue.”
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