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National

After 15-Month Stay In Church, Immigrant Allowed To Remain In U.S.

Rosa Robles Loreto sits in her small room at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., on July 30. Robles Loreto took sanctuary from deportation in the church for 15 months; she walked out this week, after making a deal with the U.S. government.
Rosa Robles Loreto sits in her small room at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., on July 30. Robles Loreto took sanctuary from deportation in the church for 15 months; she walked out this week, after making a deal with the U.S. government.

Seeking sanctuary in a church is an ancient tradition. But it's been making modern headlines — some immigrants enter churches to find refuge from deportation.

Rosa Robles Loreto was among them. She migrated from her hometown in northern Mexico to Tucson 16 years ago, and stayed illegally after her visa expired. Since then she has worked as a maid, raising two sons, and found a community in her children's Little League team.

All that changed in 2010, when a traffic stop triggered deportation proceedings against her.

On the day she was to be deported, Robles Loreto sought sanctuary in Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona.

She lived there for 15 months.

Earlier this week, Robles Loreto reached an agreement with the government that will allow her to stay in the country. Robles Loreto spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about the experience; her lawyer, Margo Cowan, served as an interpreter.

The first thing she did when she was allowed to leave the church, she says, was to go to her sons' Little League practice.

"They're champions," Robles Loreto says. "And that's what it's all about."


Interview Highlights

On what it was like living inside the church for 15 months.

My family and I, we live day to day. We didn't think about it in terms of another month or another couple of weeks. Every day we gave thanks to God and we said, "Well, it didn't happen today, but perhaps it will happen tomorrow."

... When we reached a year, I really felt that we were very close. And I think that was the turning point for me, that I felt that the end was near.

On how she would respond to people who say that sanctuaries like the ones she used shouldn't be allowed

When I hear these words of hate, I don't understand them, coming from my brothers. We're all children of God and we all deserve an opportunity. So when I hear people say, well, I should have to leave, it doesn't make any sense to me.

On the objection that she has violated the law

I don't really see it that way. We haven't broken any laws. I've been very public and very upfront in saying that as workers we've earned our place here, and what we ask for is respect.

On what she'll do next

I continue to be part of 11 million-plus undocumented people in America. And while part of me has returned to my normal routine and my normal life with my family, I won't stop until there's comprehensive reform for everybody.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.