In a Small-Town Colorado Church, an Immigrant Facing Deportation Finds Sanctuary and Friendship

A small piece of paper hangs above a bed in the pastor’s office at the Mancos United Methodist Church.

It’s a sign-up sheet with the names of local residents committed to watching over Rosa Sabido, a Mexican national who has found sanctuary from deportation in the Colorado church. The residents sleep in the church office, while Sabido rests in a separate room normally used as a children’s nursery.

“We are here in case someone should show up at night or just to comfort her,” Joanie Trussel, a local resident whose name was on the list of volunteers, said recently. “We don’t want her to be alone.”

For the last 30 years, Sabido has lived in the U.S. on visitor visas or by receiving stays of deportation, but she was denied a stay in May and became eligible for immediate deportation.

She is the latest in a series of immigrants whom the government suspects of entering the country illegally or overstaying their visas to seek refuge in a church to avoid deportation. Many others have found sanctuary in big cities like Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.

Mancos, a town of about 1,300 in rural southwest Colorado, is an island of diversity in a largely Republican sea with the motto “Where the West Still Lives.” It’s an eclectic place of cattle drives, art galleries, cafes and coffee roasters.

“People think independently here,” said Silvia Fleitz, lay leader of the church. “You think they are one thing and they do something that totally surprises you.”

When faced with potential deportation, Sabido, 53, left her home in nearby Cortez and headed for Mancos to be among people she’s known for decades.

“In a small community we are not strangers,” said Craig Paschal, pastor of the church, which sits on a leafy street a few blocks from downtown. “There is a level of intimacy you don’t get in a bigger city.”

After Sabido received sanctuary June 2, the whole town swung into action.

“In a place like Mancos, things become personal very fast,” said Travis Custer, 30, a local resident who has rallied support for Sabido. “We immediately formed a committee of 10 to 12 people and began discussing ways to get this story out, to show people how broken this immigration system is.”

By David Kelly for Los Angeles Times
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