Having her boys around while they're on summer break has made Rosa Robles Loreto's days in sanctuary
seem like she's back into the old routine. Her life as a working mother and wife has been on hold for nine months, while she and her supporters continue to negotiate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hopefully bring her deportation case to an end.
Her kids—Gerardo Jr. and José Emiliano—have temporarily moved in to keep her company, and her husband tries to be around as much as he can. "We clean, we cook, we play, having them around really helps me," she says. (Some afternoons, they head to baseball practice.) The boys eat a snack before lunch as Robles Loreto organizes some of her clothes. She promised she'd make them omelettes afterwards. "It distracts me from thinking that I am still here."
It's crazy to think that she walked through the doors of Southside Presbyterian Church in August with only a small bag, enough for no more than 10 days. Now, there are shelves on top of shelves with clothes and other items that have been donated to her for her prolonged stay. She and her family never anticipated she'd be in here this long. After all, on paper, she is not a priority for removal in ICE's book—she doesn't have a criminal record, and has paid taxes on-and-off throughout the nearly two decades she's lived here.
The agency itself has told Robles Loreto's attorney, Margo Cowan, that, yes, she is not a priority and should be able to leave sanctuary, but Cowan says they refuse to put it on paper—without that, it is not a risk they are not willing to take.
Recently, another one of Cowan's clients was apprehended at her job and deported, even though ICE had expressed she was not at the top of the list, either. "We don't care what it is, we just want them to put it in writing," Cowan says.
The Department of Homeland Security's most recent removal guidelines—released Nov. 20
, the same day President Obama issued a series of immigration executive orders—says that felons are at the forefront of deportation, not undocumented parents like Robles Loreto, who pose no threat to national security. But she, and many others, are at the mercy of this so-called prosecutorial discretion.
DHS' 2011 memo
was supposed to clarify what details should be considered to carry out such discretion, and whom exactly is entitled within the agencies to decide people's fate in this country—an ICE "eeny, meeny, miny, mo." The agency has been using the discretion card too often, many times ignoring the 2014 memo.
"It seems like, from the perspective of legal counsel, we are seeing a state of confusion out there with regards to how ICE is handling each individual case," says Tucson immigration lawyer Mo Goldman. "It goes both ways, it is hurting some people and helping a few others."
He mentions a recent success story of his—an undocumented mother, with non-U.S. citizen or resident children, whose removal case closed a few weeks ago. They submitted at least 1,000 pages of documents to ICE's Office of Chief Counsel, and in this case, they used prosecutorial discretion to let her stay in the U.S.
"That is a win, as far as and not facing imminent deportation, the problem in her case is she is not eligible for (deferred action for parents), she is kind of out there in limbo," Goldman says. "Having the case closed like that is a success, because it gets her into a position where at least she is not potentially deported, whereas five or six years ago, she probably would have had a harder time. Then, there are other cases we hear about, where people are still deported, people who should not be considered priorities under the (2014) memo." (Regarding the 2014 memo, ICE isn't paying much attention to its own rules, but on the prosecutorial discretion, ICE is going batshit crazy.)
Back to Robles Loreto—she, too, has two children who weren't born here, has strong ties with the community, has no criminal background, etc., yet, ICE has reinforced they are not closing her case.
(FYI: Recently, Congressman Raúl Grijalva sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson
asking him to ensure these agencies are consistent with the 2014 memo.)
When Obama issued DAPA
and the extended DACA in November, it was bittersweet to Robles Loreto. She was happy her children could get deferred action, but she, like millions more, was left in the same position she was before. But this gave her the status of being a DACA parent, and it makes no sense to say her children are OK to stay, but mom has to go.
Another sanctuary case, Francisco Perez Cordova
—he has five U.S. citizen children, and his removal order vanished about a month after Obama announced his immigration actions. (Although, DAPA is temporarily blocked, his case is still closed.)
"A lot of people who have been fighting for comprehensive immigration reform hoped the executive action would give greater clarity on how prosecutorial discretion was being implemented," says Sarah Lanius, an immigration rights advocate, who's been working with Robles Loreto and other sanctuary cases, alongside Cowan. "Sadly, as of yet, that has not been the case. Arguably, we are not in a better place now, six months after the executive order, and that is very troubling. What it signals is that the intention of the executive order is not being followed and implemented. Her situation speaks to the 6 million who were left out of any relief."
"The executive action is really good for about 5 million, but it leaves out some of their parents, some of their brothers, some of their sisters, some of their neighbors..." she says. "The campaign and the support, locally, for Rosa, it's recognition that there are hundreds of thousands of families in a similar situation. What happens in her case is very significant in terms of what our country is going to look like...protecting families and their ability to be united, and ensuring our communities are stable."
Robles Loreto says being a symbol for those families—a public face for the immense need to also give people like her some stability—is part of what helps her keep going. Still, some mornings she wakes up hopeful, others she's desperate.
"I want to come home and feel free, I want to walk out and know I am headed there, I see myself cleaning my house, cooking, cleaning this room, packing all my things," she says. "Every week, I pray to God for peace and wisdom to keep fighting."