By Lucy Nicholson and Ben Gruber
MANCOS, Colorado (Reuters) – Rosa Sabido stares out a church window pondering her future and worrying about her ailing mother.
For nearly two months since taking sanctuary at the United Methodist Church in Mancos, a small town in the mountains of southwest Colorado, Sabido, 53, has lived in a cramped room with a makeshift shower. She sleeps beneath a mural of Noah’s Ark in what used to be the church nursery.
Sabido leaves her room to use the toilet, or stretch her legs in the garden, or attend worship services, but if she steps off church property she risks arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Sabido has been battling to stay in the United States for most of the last 30 years after crossing the border illegally from Mexico. In 2002, a judge ordered her to leave the country under a “voluntary deportation” order, a decision she appealed through a succession of courts and lost at every point.
Since 2011, ICE has granted her one-year deportation stays that allowed her to stay in the country, but when she applied for another one last April it was denied.
Sabido is out of legal options, but she is determined not to leave. “I will plea, I will cry, I will ask to whomever to let me stay by my mom,” she said in an interview with Reuters at the church.
“This is home. This is where I live. This is where I have my life settled. This is where my parents are.” Sabido’s mother and stepfather are naturalized U.S. citizens.
“It took me by surprise,” Sabido’s mother Blanca Valdivia said of her daughter’s decision seek sanctuary at the church. “The only thing we could do is support her because she supported us. But it’s difficult. It’s difficult because we need her.”
Immigration officials have a long-standing policy of not conducting enforcement operations in sensitive locations such as places of worship, but they have little sympathy for those illegally living in the country.
“The moment law enforcement starts carving out exemptions is the moment the rule of law starts to erode,” said acting ICE director Thomas Homan in a June press briefing, adding that a “final order from a federal judge needs to mean something or this whole system has no integrity.”
About 800 congregations in the United States have offered to give sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, according to the Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program. Sabido is one of at least 12 immigrants currently taking shelter in churches, according to the group.
Pastor Craig Paschal says the decision to turn his church into a sanctuary, and a focal point in the nationwide immigration debate, was not easy but he considered it a Christian duty.
“When we have laws that are devaluing people and criminalizing people we have an obligation. It’s certainly not comfortable, it’s not easy, but that’s who we are called to be,” he said.
Church members bring food, their pets and activities such as yoga classes to keep Sabido company. Congregation member Sue Ryter, 74, says she sees the church’s action as a matter of conscience.
“Slavery was a law and it needed to be changed and there were laws like women couldn’t vote. That law needed to be changed, and this is one of those laws,” Ryter said.
Some Mancos residents disagree. “I believe that it’s way too easy to get into this country,” said Roy Jarboe, 69, who supports Trump’s immigration crackdown.
“I believe that if you are harboring a criminal you are breaking the law, and the people at the church should be arrested,” he said.
Sabido, who worked as a church secretary, a tax preparer and a cook over the past three decades, says one reason she took sanctuary was to highlight the plight of millions of immigrants like her.
“I have tried so many years. I don’t want to give up right at this moment. I want to keep on trying. I want to give everything, what is left of me in this fight,” she said.
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Reporting by Lucy Nicholson and Ben Gruber; Editing by Sue Horton, Toni Reinhold