Mancos United Methodist Church looks much the same as it did when Rosa Sabido started living there a year ago, except for the birds outside Fellowship Hall.
The Mexican national, who sought sanctuary in Mancos after her request for a one-year stay of deportation was denied last May, received a bird feeder as a gift from a supporter to hang outside the building where she has lived since June 2, 2017. She said she requested an additional feeder after seeing small birds get hurt in the struggle for food, and both feeders have been busy this spring. So have Sabido and the church staff, who are holding a public event on June 2 to mark the anniversary of her year in sanctuary, and are planning for another year of uncertainty.
Last June, neither Sabido nor the church knew how long her time in sanctuary would last.
“When I came, I didn’t have enough time to think,” she said.
The Cortez resident approached Mancos First United Methodist Church, which had voted to become a sanctuary congregation, because she didn’t know where else to go after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement denied her stay of removal. She had met several members of the congregation, including Pastor Craig Paschal, through her side business of selling homemade tamales.
A year later, the church and the volunteer group Rosa Belongs Here have focused on Sabido, scheduling daily activities in Fellowship Hall.
Paschal said being a sanctuary church hasn’t been easy, but it has brought the congregation closer together.
Since the church announced it would shelter Sabido, Paschal said “95 percent” of the response from Mancos residents has been positive. Neighbors regularly send gifts and notes of support, or just drop by to talk with Sabido. A “Dollar-A-Day” fundraiser on the Rosa Belongs Here website has raised more than $5,000 to cover her expenses while in sanctuary.
“With that, you will get, on occasion, the nasty email or the nasty post or something like that, but it’s really very minor compared to the support,” Paschal said.
Support for Sabido spread quickly across the nation. Supporters have sent letters and gifts to the church from across the U.S. The Washington Post published a lengthy report about her in March, and she said she’s been contacted by numerous other media companies, including Netflix. The visibility can be overwhelming for Sabido and church staff.
“It’s people wanting to be supportive and include Rosa in the life of the community as much as possible,” Paschal said. “But then it can also present some challenges, because it’s almost too much.”
Sabido said she likes to stay busy. She is unable to work while in sanctuary, but she cooks for church events and for neighbors who ask about her popular tamales. It’s her way of staying “useful,” she said.
Sabido can’t leave the Methodist Church property without risking deportation. Her mother has been diagnosed with cancer since she went into sanctuary, and Sabido said her situation has made the illness more difficult for both of them.
“There’s nothing that I can do from here,” she said. “It really blocks me from doing something for her.”
She has been able to promote immigration reform, though, through social media and video appearances at various immigration events.
Earlier this year, along with three other Colorado residents in sanctuary – Ingrid Encalada Latorre, Araceli Velasquez and Sandra Lopez – she helped create “The People’s Resolution,” a petition asking the Colorado Legislature to support a path to citizenship for people like them. The American Friends Service Committee, which advocates for immigrants in sanctuary, is seeking endorsements for the resolution from Coloradans and hopes to introduce it to the Legislature this summer. Sabido said she’s been promoting the resolution mostly for the sake of sanctuary immigrants with children who are American citizens.
Because of her illegal status, most options for citizenship are closed to Sabido. Her only chance for legal residency would be a private bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, which she doesn’t expect to see anytime soon.
To mark Sabido’s anniversary in sanctuary, the United Methodist Church will hold an event on June 2 called a “verbena,” after a traditional Spanish fair. Supporters will bring music, poetry, art and other creative expressions to Fellowship Hall to celebrate the past year. There also will be an altar where participants will be asked to place “milagros,” small items symbolizing prayers and hopes on behalf of Sabido and other immigrants. The event will feature crafts for children, and it’s open to the public.
Even though she’s no closer to becoming a legal U.S. resident than she was a year ago, Sabido said she feels her time in sanctuary hasn’t been wasted. She said she hopes her story will help create change in America’s immigration laws or at least in the hearts of its citizens.
“Even if it’s just to create a difference in people’s minds on immigration, that’s a good thing,” she said.