Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was in Colorado this weekend after receiving an invitation from her colleague Joe Neguse to travel around the state to study and talk about climate issues. But the progressive freshman Democrat members of Congress added a stop that wasn't related to climate to their itinerary.
On Saturday, September 21, the representatives had lunch with Ingrid Encalada Latorre, an immigrant from Peru who is currently living with her three children in a church in Boulder to avoid deportation.
"Are you proud of Mom?," Ocasio-Cortez asked Encalada Latorre's eleven-year-old son, Bryant.
"Yeah," Bryant responded.
"We're proud of her, too," said Ocasio-Cortez.
Neguse says Ocasio-Cortez's visit to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder is a way to highlight Encalada-Latorre's case.
"If we can draw more public attention to her case, I'm hoping that we can convince more hearts and minds who will in turn make their voices heard about what's happening right now in our name in terms of the federal immigration policies that are just not reflective of our humanity or value as Americans," says Neguse.
Encalada Latorre, who came to the U.S. when she was seventeen, has been living in sanctuary for close to two years to avoid deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She illegally purchased a Social Security card so that she could work and eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge associated with purchasing the card, a deal that she didn't realize at the time could make her a target for deportation. Since then, Encalada Latorre has been fighting to stay in the U.S.
When he was governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper declined a pardon request from Encalada Latorre. In October 2017, she was set to be deported back to Peru when she decided to seek sanctuary.
Other immigrants facing deportation have sought sanctuary in Colorado, the most well-known being Jeanette Vizguerra, who currently lives at the First Unitarian Society church in Capitol Hill. Both she and Encalada Latorre are part of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, which helps link congregations to undocumented immigrants seeking sanctuary.
Even in sanctuary, Encalada Latorre has felt the reach of the federal government: In July, she received a letter notifying her that she was being fined approximately $5,000 for staying past her deportation date.
But on Saturday, the mood was light, as Ocasio-Cortez got a chance to interact with Encalada Latorre's two sons, Bryant and Anibal, and speak with the family in Spanish and English. Encalada Latorre gave birth to her third child, a daughter named Elizabeth, on September 16.
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Neguse had visited Encalada Latorre earlier in the summer, and his familiarity with the family was apparent during yesterday's visit, as Neguse picked up Anibal and swung the young boy in the air, making him laugh.
Neguse has submitted a private bill on her behalf, which calls for her deportation proceeding to stop and asks for a path to permanent lawful residency. Such bills have been used in recent years to provide a temporary fix for undocumented immigrants. But in 2017, ICE said that it would no longer consider private bills as a way to stop deportation proceedings.
Despite the long odds for success, Neguse is still hopeful that the private bill can gain support of prominent Democrats and maybe even some Republicans in the House of Representatives so that Encalada Latorre can leave the church and go home.
"She's gone above and beyond whatever was legally required of her in that initial case and is now educating others about the risk," said Neguse, referencing the fact that Encalada Latorre now educates undocumented immigrants about the risks associated with using someone else's Social Security card. "She's somebody we want to keep in our community."