Freedom from sanctuary and the constant fear of deportation is potentially on the horizon for Mexican immigrant Rosa Sabido, who has sought refuge in the Mancos United Methodist Church for more than four years.
Sabido sat down with The Journal this week to talk about a private immigration bill introduced this month by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Boulder, on her behalf.
If passed, the bill would provide permanent U.S. residency – a green card – for Sabido, a Mexican national and 32-year resident of Montezuma County who has been fighting for the right stay in the country she calls home.
“I am so happy and thankful, I thought it was impossible, but now it is tangible. A private bill is what I have been working towards, because all other legal avenues have been exhausted,” she said while sitting in the shade of the church yard on a quiet street in Mancos. “Introducing the bill is an important first step, a new chapter. It will not happen easily or quick. There is a lot of work to do.”
In addition to the providing the green card, H.R. 4936 would prevent her from being deported or denied entry into the U.S. It would rescind outstanding orders of deportation.
“Rosa has spent the majority of her life – over 30 years – in the United States, contributing to our economy, the local Cortez community and planting roots in America,” said Neguse in a statement to The Journal. “This bill granting . . . permanent residency status for Rosa would allow her to reconnect with her neighbors and the community and would provide stability and certainty for her future.”
Neguse and his staff have urged the administration of President Joe Biden to provide relief to a handful of immigrants living in sanctuary in Colorado.
“This legislation is an immediate step that can be taken to offer hope and certainty, as the Congress works to craft comprehensive immigration reform,” Neguse said.
Sabido is well known in Southwest Colorado, and her struggle to gain residency has attracted national attention.
She arrived in Cortez at age 23 and has family with permanent residency status, including her stepfather and mother, who recently died.
Sabido has lived and worked in the area for decades and has a home in Cortez. She has been a law-abiding resident except for her violation of a deportation order.
In a January letter to Biden, Neguse and other members of Congress urged deportation orders be lifted for immigrants living in sanctuary in Colorado, including for Sabido. The letter was signed by Neguse, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Colorado Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jason Crow
The letter shared stories of immigrants trapped in sanctuary.
Sabido has worked many years in Colorado with valid employment authorization based on pending immigration applications, according to the Neguse’s letter. She worked at H&R Block doing tax preparation, as a housekeeper at a hotel, and secretary for St. Margaret Mary Church.
Rosa has cooked and sold food to supplement her income, becoming renown in and around Cortez for her tamales. In sanctuary, Rosa had to grieve; she was unable to see or care for her mother, Blanca, as she fought breast cancer for six months, then died July 23, 2018.
Sabido’s applications and petitions for permanent residency have not been successful, in part, she said, because of poor legal representation early in the process, and honest mistakes.
After losing her immigration case at the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2006, she was ordered to leave the country, but she was granted stay of deportation six times, which allowed her to remain in the U.S. In 2017, the seventh stay of removal application was denied, and she sought refuge at the Mancos church, which welcomed her.
In April, Sabido and a group of other immigrants living in church sanctuaries were granted temporary stays of removal by the Department of Homeland Security. The order allows them leave sanctuary without fear of deportation for one year.
But Sabido does not want to leave sanctuary, preferring to seek a permanent solution to her immigration status through the private bill process.
“If I left, I would be right back where I started with the one-year stays of removals, always reapplying. That insecurity and fear is what drove me to sanctuary,” she said.
Immigrants who leave sanctuary under the stay of removal can have trouble getting a job, renting a home or getting a driver’s license because they don’t have legal status or proper ID and documents.
Stays of removals are not ironclad, Sabido added, and can be influenced by political changes and have discretionary clauses that allow them to be revoked.
“I resisted the process by going to sanctuary. Some people are not happy with that. It’s scary,” she said. “I was brave enough to do this. There is a lot to lose, a lot of time behind these walls, but it has also been worth it. This bill has given me hope. I don’t want to stay in sanctuary another four years.”
Under former President Donald Trump, Immigration Custom Enforcement policies became stricter for immigrants living in the U.S. The Biden administration is seeking a new ICE director, expected to make policy more immigrant friendly. But it worries Sabido that for now many of the stricter Trump policies are still in place.
For now, she wants to focus her efforts on telling her immigrant story to the committee members who will review her private bill and voting on it to go to a full House vote.
The bill needs Senate approval, and a sponsor. Sabido said she and her team have reached out to Democrats Bennet and Hickenlooper to see if they would co-sponsor the bill.
The legislative session ends in April 2022.
“My story is simple; I am a simple person, a good citizen. I want to get my story out to members of Congress, to their constituents, so this bill does not just get put in a stack on a desk and forgotten,” she said.
Sabido has been communicating with other immigrants of the Sanctuary Collectivo organization who face similar issues.
“If we don’t stand up and fight for ourselves, bring our stories to light, then nothing will change,” Sabido said.
Her voice cracks with emotion when talking about her community support network and the generosity of the church.
“I am where I am because of them. They have gotten me to this new chapter of a private bill,” she said. “I’ve learned humility, patience, relinquishing control of my life.”
Sabido passes the time working on her case, advocating for immigration reform and other immigrants, doing crafts, writing poetry, exercising and sharing her story to whoever will listen.
She feels like a victim of “obsolete immigration laws that do not fit the times and are unfair.”
“I deserve to be free, to be happy. I’m dreaming of that day,” Sabido said.