Sandra Lopez returns to her family after 10 months of living in sanctuary
After 306 days of taking sanctuary in a parsonage belonging to Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist in Carbondale, Sandra Lopez was not deported back to her birthplace in Chihuahua, Mexico, but rather returned to her home in Silt on Tuesday night.
“I am very, very happy,” Lopez told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent before addressing a small gathering of supporters outside of the parsonage where she resided for the last 10 months. “I just want to live and enjoy a normal life with my family.”
Lopez was arrested in 2010 after one of her children dialed 911 following an argument between her and her husband. But she quickly found herself in a situation that no longer had anything to do with a dispute between a married couple, but rather everything to do with Lopez being a suspected, undocumented immigrant by police.
“There’s a piece of paper that shows when Sandra’s charges were dropped,” TRUU minister, the Rev. Shawna Foster, said.
“The first time she went into court, they were immediately dropped and on that paperwork it says ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) referral,” she said. “This was standard practice, that it wasn’t really for whatever the police were called for. The police, once they deduced that Sandra might be undocumented decided to bring her in so that she could be referred to ICE.”
At the time of Lopez’s arrest, Colorado SB-90, which has since been repealed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, mandated that police officers report any person arrested to ICE if the arresting officer had reason to believe their suspect in custody was in the United States illegally.
“I’ll be sad to see Sandra go, but I’m happy she’s going home,” Carbondale resident Matt Heck, one of the three dozen or so people gathered outside the parsonage, said.
When asked where he believed Sandra’s home is, the Carbondale resident replied, “She’s made her home here.
“If we had an immigration system that worked, there would be no need for sanctuaries,” Heck said.
On Tuesday, at a 5:30 p.m. rally and press conference, Lopez’s supporters cheered as the undocumented mother of three emerged from confinement and back into the community where they believe Lopez belongs permanently as a United States citizen — something she has been working on for several years now.
Holding her youngest of three U.S. citizen children, daughter Areli, Lopez told the crowd that, although she felt free, at the same time she was sad.
That’s because her dear friends — Rosa Sabido, Ingrid Encalada Latorre and Araceli Velazquez — still remained confined in sanctuary elsewhere in Colorado. Lopez encouraged her supporters to support them through the People’s Resolution — a task taken on by the four women, which lays out a suggested immigration policy reform.
“Her family has been killed in Chihuahua,” Foster said of Lopez’s situation. “She would have no way to be able to make it back to any family that she knew, nor does she want to because of the gang violence that’s in Mexico that has been killing her family members since she fled to the United States.”
With umbrellas and signs of support in hand, from the parsonage, supporters rallied around Lopez and marched through the heart of Carbondale to the place Lopez wanted to go first: the community Third Street Center, where Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist holds its services.
“Those are her first steps of freedom, and she just wants to do it with the community,” Foster said.
Like the United States’ overwhelming, bipartisan stance against family separation at the border, Lopez’s supporters on Tuesday also marched in solidarity, knowing that soon Lopez would reunite with her children and husband, too. They can only hope it’s permanent.
“For the last 10 months it’s been very difficult for the family … it was really hard on the kids to have their mom suddenly be gone,” Foster said.
Lopez still has a deportation order, she said. However, because of a recent Supreme Court decision, she now has a motion that may cancel it. That action allowed her and her attorney to feel comfortable leaving sanctuary.
As the rain poured, Lopez’s banner remained intact. It read, “A mother’s love is the impulse that allows a human being to reach the impossible. Sanctuary for everywhere.”
In true American fashion, Lopez said she simply could not wait to go out to eat with her family and friends later that night. She also told supporters that a family camping trip is in order.
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Ballots will be counted Tuesday evening for the city of Aspen municipal election.