This afternoon, surrounded by a group of about 35 community members and supporters, Ingrid Encalada Latorre claimed sanctuary at University Park’s Mountain View Friends Meeting.
Latorre is an undocumented immigrant and mother of two, and she’s facing deportation. She’s applied for a stay of deportation and her case has been pending with the Washington, D.C., office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Nov. 24.
“In March, immigration told me I could no longer be in this country,” she told the gathered crowd as American Friends Service Committee Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition Coordinator Jennifer Piper translated. “I’m hoping immigration will hear us here today.”
Until recently, she’s been working with someone else’s papers, which she bought on the street. Piper told Denverite that Latorre believed they were fake. The man who sold them to her told her not to pay taxes.
But it turned out the papers belonged to a real person, and when that person got in trouble for not paying taxes, it led authorities to Latorre. A sheriff picked her up at the nursing home where she worked.
She’s since paid the back taxes, but she got bad legal advice and pleaded guilty to a felony. That makes her a No. 1 priority for deportation.
Both of Latorre’s sons, 8-year-old Bryant and 1-year-old Anibal, are U.S. citizens.
“I have lived in the U.S. for almost half my life. My sons need me at home, where I belong,” she said in a statement. “Since Bryant started school, I have always picked him up. I make sure he does his homework and we spend a lot of time together. My younger son, Anibal, just had his first birthday and is in physical therapy.”
She’s been fighting deportation for years, but she could be deported to Peru at any moment. That’s why she, her sons and her boyfriend, Eliseo, left their home to live at Mountain View Friends Meeting.
“Since we joined in supporting the work of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition two years ago, we have learned much in accompanying our immigrant brothers and sisters in their struggle to keep their families together,” David Poundstone of Mountain View Friends Meeting said in a statement. “We cannot stand idly by and let our government threaten the integrity of families. We feel called upon to engage in civil initiative to invoke the tradition of sanctuary to protect those under threat of harm. We publicly demand discretion and humane treatment by our government to protect the basic human right to keep families together, where they have lived and worked among us. We have come to know them and love them as our friends and neighbors. We call on Secretary Saldaña to grant Ingrid a stay.”
Churches are considered “sensitive locations” by ICE and the agency generally won’t enter any kind of religious institution to make an arrest, unless circumstances are extreme.
So it’s not totally unusual for a person threatened with deportation to take sanctuary in a church. There are hundreds of sanctuary churches across the country, Fox News recently reported. A few weeks ago, Javier Flores, a Mexican immigrant in Philadelphia, moved into a church there.
Arturo Hernandez Garcia lived in the First Unitarian Society of Denver for nine months in 2014-15 while he waited for a stay of deportation. At the time, the Denver Post reported that nine other people across the country were doing the same.
As the Post pointed out upon Garcia’s return home to his family in Thornton, the stay wasn’t so easy. He rarely went outside for fear of being arrested.
“By our civil initiative we’re working together as one community,” Poundstone said as a group welcomed Latorre and her family on Wednesday afternoon.
Standing in a Quaker circle holding a ribbon symbolizing their interconnection, her supporters, one person at a time, said:
“Keeping families together.”
“Making this country more humane.”
“I am doing this not only to stop my own deportation but also to help raise awareness that there are thousands of others like me,” Latorre said in her statement. “People whose only offense was to work and pay into the social safety net and whose only desire is to live safely with our families.”