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SILVER SPRING – A mother of three from El Salvador, who has been living in a Bethesda church for the past three months, lost her legal appeal to have her deportation case reopened and is now asking politicians to help her.
Rosa Gutierrez Lopez, the first undocumented immigrant to seek public sanctuary in the Washington, D.C., area, was taken in by Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church after she refused to board a flight home on Dec. 10.
On March 20, the church held an interfaith community vigil in her honor.
Choking back tears, Gutierrez Lopez thanked those in attendance “for all the support that you have given me.”
Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, she said she fled El Salvador, because, “I was being threatened. I was getting death threats.” Also, she noted, her youngest child, who has Downs syndrome, is receiving care here that is not available in her home country.
“I decided to stay and fight for my children, because my children need me,” she said.
Gutierrez Lopez’s three American-born children are living with her minister’s family in Fredericksburg, Va.
“In the name of God, please, please intervene, because I need to be with my children,” she said.
Councilman Will Jawando, Delegate Jared Solomon (D-18) and a spokesman for County Executive Marc Elrich immediately agreed to help.
“I am so sorry for what you all have gone through. I feel such shame that our country does this,” Jawando said. “You are welcome here,” he declared.
Solomon, who stated that “many of the United States’ policies of 10, 20 years ago resulted in what is driving families to come here,” also expressed support.
“I am happy to come with you as well when you make your petition,” the state legislator said.
And Dale Tibbitts, Elrich’s chief of staff, told Gutierrez Lopez that “Montgomery County is committed to building and maintaining a safe and inclusive community. Justice for all is what we try to achieve.”
Iman Faizul Khan, who described herself as a member of the Sikh community and a mother, praised Gutierrez Lopez. “You have done everything a champion mother would do.”
She urged Gutierrez Lopez to “please forgive us for the hostile administration” that separates families.
Maritza Cruz, Gutierrez Lopez’s pastor in Virginia, spoke about the many sleepless nights her children have had and called for the family to be reunited.
“Our children need mom and dad together so they can grow up emotionally stable,” Cruz said.
“Please Congress, people, hear the voice of this voiceless mother. It’s time that this stops. No more separated families,” she said.
Gutierrez Lopez was not the only one seeking assistance from the crowd.
Orquidia Tamara Hernandez, whose family fled Guatemala and spent many months in detention, still waits for her grandson to be released from detention. The 24-year-old is the father of two youngsters that he has not been able to watch grow up, she said.
He is not well, and the food he eats in detention often has expired, she said.
Also speaking out was Edy Marcario, a Silver Spring resident who was living in the Flower Branch Apartments at the time of the gas explosion. He was recently granted permission to remain in this country, following a hearing in Baltimore.
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church Assistant Minister Rev. Katie Romano Griffin also addressed those gathered, speaking out harshly against “an unjust system.”
While Gutierrez Lopez remains in the church, county police will not intervene. However, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may legally enter the church.
Should that happen, Cedar Lane Senior Minister Abhi Janamanchi said he would speak with those from ICE, and their response would determine his next step.