Presbyterian church in Arizona offers sanctuary to undocumented migrant

TUCSON Ariz. (Reuters) - For the second time since May, an Arizona Presbyterian church with a long history of sheltering Central American refugees is offering sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant who faces deportation, its pastor said on Monday.

Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church will protect local housekeeper Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto unless Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stalls or cancels her deportation by Friday, when she is due to be returned to her native Mexico, said Pastor Alison Harrington.

“She owns a house. She’s a taxpaying member of the community. She has two beautiful boys and a loving husband. She has no criminal history,” Harrington said.

“Her goal is to stay with her family.”

Loreto came to Tucson in 1999, only returning to Mexico to have her two sons. Her husband and children, who are also undocumented, are not targeted for deportation, Harrington said.

She said the church chose Loreto because she is a good example of a category of undocumented immigrant specifically made a low priority in a 2011 memo issued by then-ICE Director John Morton.

In the memo, Morton offered field offices guidance in the use of “prosecutorial discretion” in pursuing immigration cases.

It includes a list of attributes, including long-standing community ties, being a caretaker for minors and lack of criminal history, that make a case a low priority.

ICE spokeswoman Amber Cargile in Phoenix said the agency is conducting a comprehensive review of Loreto’s case “to determine appropriate next steps.”

Typically, ICE will not intervene when an immigrant accepts church sanctuary unless there is a threat to national security or public safety, as in the case of a wanted criminal suspect.

It is also unlikely ICE would arrest Loreto at her home, if she is a low-priority case.

But should the date of the deportation order pass and Loreto be caught in a traffic stop or otherwise identified by law enforcement, she would be taken into custody.

In May and June, Southside Presbyterian sheltered Mexican immigrant Daniel Noyoy Ruiz, 36, for 26 days until ICE offered a one-year stay of his deportation. That sanctuary was the first offered by the church in three decades.

In the 1980s, its pastor John Fife co-founded the Sanctuary Movement, in which churches nationwide sheltered immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala, which were convulsed by political upheavals that saw some people fleeing death squads.

Fife was eventually convicted of immigration law violations and sentenced to probation.

He later retired and helped found No More Deaths, an immigrant-advocacy group focusing on the desert Southwest.

Loreto was unavailable for comment Monday.

Reporting by Brad Poole; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech