Ingrid Encalada Latorre’s 10-year-old son Bryant had a message for the few dozen people gathered Thursday evening inside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder.
“Hi, everyone,” he began. “Thanks for helping my mom. I appreciate it a lot and thanks for coming and celebrating with my mom of her first year here. If we can really have all of your help, then my mom can get out of church.”
The audience broke into laughter and then applause. They had come to the church not to celebrate but to mark the year that Encalada Latorre has taken sanctuary, first at a Unitarian congregation in Fort Collins and now in Boulder.
“I don’t want to call this a party,” Encalada Latorre said, adding that the meeting at the church was part of a broad “seven days of action” she is participating in throughout the week.
Those actions, she said, include calling potential voters, demonstrations in Boulder and Longmont this weekend (in which she cannot participate) and continuing to push for a “People’s Resolution” that calls on state and federal lawmakers to clean a “broken and overly complex immigration system.”
Encalada Latorre immigrated to the United States from Peru illegally in 2000. She was later arrested for using a stolen security number to work and pleaded guilty to a felony. She went into sanctuary last year to avoid being deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as she has no legal recourse.
“With this administration, it’s really hard,” she said. “They don’t give you hope anymore. They are closing the doors to us and they are still separating families.”
President Donald Trump on Thursday took to Twitter to accuse the Democratic Party of leading an “assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador” alleging that the leaders of those Central American countries aren’t stopping an influx of people from entering the United States.
Trump’s tweets, an apparent response to a caravan of more than 3,000 migrants headed toward the United States/Mexico border, also threatened military action to close the border. The president has also threatened to cut off aid to the three countries.
Encalada Latorre urged people sympathetic to the plight of immigrants to vote in November as she herself is waiting out the Trump administration in hopes of one more friendly to the immigrant community getting elected in 2020. It’s likely the only way she’ll be able to leave sanctuary and stay in the United States.
Trump has been criticized for what many believe is racist rhetoric with regard to immigrants, including his campaign kick-off speech in which he called Mexican nationals rapists. He also has referred to members of the MS-13 gang as “animals” and has warned that immigrants will “infest” this country.
His administration earlier this year began separating immigrant children from their parents at the border as part of a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings. The policy was later walked back, but 245 children remain separated from their parents, according to the Washington Post.
A 2016 Pew Research Center study showed most Trump supporters view immigration as a “very big problem” in the United States and his proposal to build a wall along the southern border has overwhelming support from his backers.
Then candidate Trump’s supporters had a more mixed view of undocumented immigrants with about 35 percent saying they believed immigrants took American jobs. A greater share of his supporters, however, believe undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit serious crime than American citizens and nearly 60 percent of strong Trump supporters associated unauthorized immigrants with criminal behavior.
Encalada Latorre’s plight was on activists’ minds earlier Thursday at an office park in Gunbarrel, where immigrant rights activist Jeanette Vizguerra led a group of demonstrators outside BI Incorporated, a company that contracts with the immigration department to supervise people in the immigration system via ankle bracelets. Encalada Latorre must wear an ankle bracelet from the company.
Vizguerra left sanctuary in May after spending 86 days at Denver churches to avoid immigration deportation. She was granted a nearly two-year stay of deportation and is continuing to work on her own case and advocate for other immigrants. She has lived in the United States for 20 years.
She said that she was demonstrating against BI Incorporated on behalf of her “friend and sister, Ingrid” because the company is profiting off immigrants and their families.
BI Incorporated has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts and is a subsidiary of the GEO Group, which operates private prisons as well as the immigration detention facility in Aurora. Demonstrators say immigrants are required to pay a weekly fee for their bracelets. That claim could not be independently verified on Thursday.
A representative of the company referred questions to the immigration department, which did not respond to an email seeking comment on Thursday.
Matt Wozniak, a member of Abolish ICE and the Democratic Socialists of America, was present at the demonstration and said he supports the disbandment of the immigration department because, as he sees it, BI Incorporated is making money off of human suffering. He said that the bracelets are noisy, uncomfortable and in some cases painful to the people who wear them.
“It’s not a dignified way to live,” he said. “It’s not the way I’d want to be treated, and it’s not how I want to treat other people in this country.”