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Rosa Sabido: Immigration reform must address cases like hers

Rosa Sabido tells her story while surrounded by a local support group at the United Methodist Church in Mancos on June 29.

Rosa Sabido, now receiving sanctuary in a Mancos church since her last application to stay in the country was denied, is not an example of problems caused by uncontrolled immigration. For the past 30 years, she has been gainfully employed, has paid taxes and has been an upstanding member of the community.

She is, though, the face of one large and often-undiscussed group of immigrants: those who have contributed to their community and the economy and who have tried to follow the rules that would allow them to remain in this country legally, but who, for a variety of reasons – some logical and some arcane – have come up short. These are the intended beneficiaries of immigration reform, which has languished on the national agenda for years. Unfortunately, a nuanced view of the complex issue, necessary for true and lasting progress, does not fit well into campaign speeches.

The United States gains no specific benefit by deporting Sabido. It would be better served with a sensible immigration policy that focused on identifying, locating and deporting those who are a danger to the country, and at the same time, dealing realistically with those whose only crime is being undocumented.

The problem with immigration is not only the behavior of individual immigrants, it is the effect of their aggregate number, and the specific issue for those like Sabido is not that they are causing trouble; it’s that their legal status does not allow them to stay.

Laws necessarily must be written in ways that cannot address every individual’s circumstances, even though Sabido’s legal circumstance indeed seems unfair. That she narrowly missed at least two opportunities that would have paved the way for permanent residency, including President Ronald Reagan’s broad path to citizenship, is sad but ultimately irrelevant; wherever a line is drawn, some people will fall just outside it. The law is the law, and selective enforcement without legal reform has contributed to the immigration mess that now exists.

The Mancos United Methodist Church has shown impressive caring and courage in shielding Sabido from a law that they believe is wrong or is being applied unfairly, and in taking a stand in opposition to the law. President Donald Trump has made clear that he disapproves of IRS regulations that penalize religious organizations from expressing political opinions, and although he surely did not intend it to play out in this way, the logical extension of that is for congregations to act on their beliefs. Kudos to this body for doing so.

Churches have no special legal status that exempts their premises from enforcement actions, only a tradition of being respected. The hands-off policy will not last much longer, although when ICE agents are ordered to breach a religious sanctuary, expect them to be in pursuit of someone far less appealing than Sabido.

This kind of sanctuary is not available to all who might wish to use it, and it is not a broad solution to the immigration dilemma. Elsewhere, families are being split, crops rot unpicked and some of the immigrants the president termed “bad hombres” evade deportation.

The true solution is reform, and Sabido and the church sheltering her have drawn attention to that need. This is one way change begins to happen, and that change is badly needed.

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