A few hours ago, after 90 days living in sanctuary at a Tucson church, Francisco Perez Cordova walked out of there relieved to know his deportation order had been gutted.
Francisco is the father of five U.S. citizen children and has no criminal background, making him eligible for President Obama’s deferred action for parents program. He gets to stay in the country with a work permit for the next three years - and we’ll see what happens from there.
Francisco was placed in removal proceedings in 2009. A family member called the Pima County Sheriff Department to report a burglary. Instead of looking into the crime, the deputies reported the family to Border Patrol.
At noon today, Francisco stood at the podium of the worship room inside St. Francis United Methodist Church, and thanked supporters for the overwhelming warmth during the three months he sat and waited to hopefully hear he’d get to stay home with his wife and children.
“You guys have a special part of my heart,” he said, while his two toddlers played on the carpet behind him. The words and tears were simultaneous. “You changed my whole life. When I came here, I was so scared of what was going to happen, how long…It was so difficult to come here and leave my family.”
I spoke to his wife, Sarai Milla, after the ceremony for a couple of minutes outside.
“I feel so happy, blessed by God, my children are going to have their father at home,” she said in Spanish. “More than gifts, more than toys, for Christmas they wanted their father to be with us.”
Yesterday, Arizona officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement finally decided to close Francisco’s case. This is about a month after Obama announced his immigration changes.
His attorney, Margo Cowan, had an issue with the wait. In a statement, she said ICE refused to kill the removal, even knowing that Francisco qualified to stay.
She was at the church today, alongside Francisco’s family, the Rev. Jim Wiltbank and a big room full of community supporters, to celebrate Francisco’s departure a day before Christmas.
“I went to my house, slept in my bed, saw my family…Now, I get to say good-bye so that you can go home and sleep in your bed, and be in your house and be with your family and I could not be happier…that is such a joy for me,” said Wiltbank, who’s been at Francisco’s side day in and day out since he asked for sanctuary.
While thrilled that Francisco is safe, Cowan and others reminded us that about 900,000 people live with fear should their deportation orders solidify and they are forced to leave families, friends and entire lives on this side of the border.
“We must broaden our concept of sanctuary, to a universal concept, our barrios must be sanctuaries, our homes must be sanctuaries, our workplaces…our schools must be sanctuaries, our community must be safe,” Cowan said.
Not too far from St. Francis, a mother of two, Rosa Robles Loreto, is still in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church. She doesn’t qualify for Obama’s relief.
Her husband and two kids were at today’s celebration. They brought Francisco red roses to congratulate him in Rosa’s name.
Cowan, who is also Rosa’s attorney, pleaded the Department of Homeland Security to also let her stay. It’s been more than four months since Rosa moved into Southside Presbyterian.
What’s next for Francisco’s family? Sarai said they want to go on a family vacation. “Maybe take the kids to Disney World…”
I will hopefully be catching up with Francisco and his family in about a month to see how life after sanctuary is treating them.