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Roaring Fork Valley sees its first person seek sanctuary from deportation

Aspen Public Radio

On Tuesday night, Sandra Lopez, a local immigrant rights activist, went into sanctuary in Carbondale. She’s now living with her two-year-old daughter in the basement the Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist church’s parsonage.

When dusk set in and it was time to say goodbye to the outside world, Lopez met with supporters on the driveway. The crowd was silent as she spoke; the only other sound was cameras clicking.

Lopez has three children, all U.S. citizens. One is in college, one in middle school and the youngest was held by Reverend Shawna Foster, who lives at the parsonage with her family.

Lopez has been fighting a deportation order for years and has consistently been given a pass to stay in the country by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Oct. 19, though, she was told no more passes. Lopez’s attorney, Jennifer Smith, said she called ICE, who reportedly told her, “This is a temporary solution, and she’s had this a couple of years, and her temporary time is up.”

By going into sanctuary, Lopez is very publicly seeking protection from deportation. And she’s doing so through a church because the Department of Homeland Security, which regulates ICE, has consistently maintained that places of worship are safe spaces. Lopez is in a safe space, but she can’t leave it.  

“If she needs something, we need to bring it to her. If we need to talk to her, we need to talk to her on the phone, or we need to come in person,” Smith said.   

Lopez’s new quarters in the parsonage basement are bare and unremarkable. She sleeps on the small mattress on the floor and doesn’t know how long this house will be her entire world.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave. It’s obvious I’m sacrificing a lot: my home; I’m abandoning my role as a mother, abandoning my work, all to be in sanctuary,” Lopez said.

Lopez, originally from Mexico, has been in the Roaring Fork Valley since 2001. The only reason ICE knows about her is because she was arrested in 2010 because, she claims, one of her children mistakenly called 911. At that time, any run-in with the law could mean ICE learns about you, which has since been ruled unconstitutional.

Even though Lopez’s charges were immediately dropped, and she said she’s no criminal, she still feels sanctuary is her only way.

“We don’t have other options. I tried to do everything right, and no. I can’t, I can’t keep going forward this way,” she said.

Attorney Jennifer Smith isn’t convinced going into sanctuary will change ICE’s mind. While she hopes she can get the court to reopen Lopez’s case, going public could catch the eye of a politician, or maybe help influence immigration reform. Ultimately, it keeps a mother close to her kids.

“I think it’s more an act for her of showing that she is not ready to be separated from her family, permanently,” Smith said.


Lopez is one of five people in sanctuary statewide. This makes Colorado the state with the most people seeking sanctuary in a place of worship in order to avoid deportation.


Before she went inside the house, with no sense for when she’ll next leave, the crowd chanted encouragement for her and for the others in sanctuary.


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