Every wooden bench at Southside Presbyterian Church filled up today as supporters of Rosa Robles Loreto, who's been living in sanctuary there for more than six months, launched a new tactic to pressure federal immigration officials to close her case so that she can go home to her two children and husband without fearing deportation.
Her two boys, Gerardo Jr., 11, and José Emiliano, 8, sat next to her as Southside's the Rev. Alison Harrington, Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez, Sunnyside Unified School District Board Members Daniel Hernandez and Eva Carrillo Dong, and attorney Margo Cowan stepped up to the podium one by one declaring their unconditional support for Rosa as she continues this battle with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"When I saw all of these people, I felt happy because I know they are standing with my mom," says Gerardo Jr., who a few months ago went to Congress (accompanied of course) to advocate for his mom. "They are not here because they have to but because they want to. I want to thank them."
The "We Stand With Rosa" campaign asks that supporters place signs outside their homes, businesses and places of worship, as well as to take photos of themselves carrying the sign, and then post them on social media sites (on Twitter, you can tag @WeStandWithRosa and use #LetRosaStay, and on Facebook the page, www.facebook.com/RosaRoblesLoreto), all with the hopes to create a stronger push on DHS, ICE and even President Obama to grant Rosa a stay in the U.S.
No one ever thought she would have to stay at Southside for as long as she has. When I spoke to her a few weeks ago, she said she even requested 10 days off at the homes she worked at, thinking that is how long she needed to wait until her case closed. We are reaching the end of February, and in the beginning of the month Cowan received an email from Jon Gurule, ICE Detention and Removal Operations deputy field office director in Arizona, saying he is not closing Robles Loreto's case. So, the pressure is now taking another route, closer to the White House, and in a handout we got at the gathering today, people are asked to write letters to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson demanding for DHS to stop Rosa's deportation.
In November, when Obama announced his immigration actions (which have now been temporarily blocked), he directed DHS to focus on removing undocumented immigrants who are felons, not on separating families.
ICE has said that her removal is not a priority, meaning no one would burst into her home and take her away. But, as she told me not too long ago, her case is now so public that she would be afraid to leave sanctuary before her case is closed.
Being away from home feels heavier now that she's reached the more than six months mark. Also, she notices that her children are suffering, and that pain is reflecting at how they've been doing at school.
Gerardo says they miss their mom taking them to baseball practice.
"It is sad because sometimes I forget that my mom is not there, I think that she is in her room and I yell, "Mom!" and then I realize she is not there," he says. He wants his mom to be there so that he can talk to her about how his day at school went.
Harrington called for officials to take a moment today, Ash Wednesday, to reflect about what they are doing and "to repent."
"We want to reaffirm to those who are in office, to president Obama, to Secretary Jeh Johnson, and all of those in power, that we are not going anywhere, our faith is stronger than anything that you might throw at us," she said. "Today is a day of reflection and repentance. As a pastor, I want to invite those who are in power...to think about the family values they hold so dear, and whether those family values line up with deporting mothers and fathers, tearing families apart."
Hernandez, who helped save former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' life in the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting, wanted to remind Obama of his visit to Tucson after the tragedy. That day, Obama said the phrase, "Together we thrive," which have been three constant words as the city heals from that event.
"How can we thrive if we don't have our entire community together? If Rosa has to be in here each and every day," he said. "Members of Congress, enough is enough. You have had decades to work on this issue, and we need to act because our families can't wait."
Rosa's boys were supposed to turn in their applications to the extended DACA program today. But that, unfortunately, has been put on hold because of a judge's temporary injunction to block Obama's immigration actions, as a lawsuit brought forward by 26 states to kill these actions plays out.