WEST VALLEY CITY — Friends, colleagues and ecclesiastical leaders gathered outside ICE headquarters on Friday to protest the deportation order of longtime immigration advocate and community activist Cecilia Figueroa.
“Nobody can take her place,” said Dora Muñez, who identified herself as Figueroa’s friend, family and fellow volunteer at Comunidades Unidas.
“We hope that things turn out for her and her family,” she said among tears as she addressed the crowd of protesters. ”We want her here so that she can keep fighting.”
Maria Montes, Comunidades Unidas community engagement coordinator, said Figueroa, who has been in the United States since 2008, was confronted by immigration enforcement agents when she showed up for an appointment with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Tuesday.
“ICE was ready and waiting for her,” she said. Figueroa was released from detention that same day under the condition that she self-deport to her hometown in the state of Guerrero in Mexico.
Montes noted that Figueroa is currently “home packing her bags, making all the arrangements that she needs to in order to be ready for Monday.”
Her friends said they worry about her safety.
“Her nephew was kidnapped and murdered, and her family has been victims of kidnapping threats and extortion,” Montes said. She noted, however, that Figueroa will not be seeking out sanctuary to avoid deportation.
“It’s a very painful decision to have to make because it requires the person to be willing to spend an unknowing amount of time in the same place in the same facility,” she said, adding that “we’re very thankful to have community leaders that provide that space into their churches.”
During the rally organizers recognized that the state’s only known migrant in sanctuary, Vicky Chavez, has now spent 566 days taking refuge at the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City with her two young daughters in order to avoid deportation to Honduras.
Clergy leaders from Salt Lake City’s Lutheran and First Baptist churches were also present at the rally.
“I think it’s important for clergy to stand and speak up because we are community leaders, and as community leaders, faith is not a noun, it’s a verb,” said the Rev. Brigette Weier, pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay.
“As people of faith, as leaders of faith communities, it is our duty and our role, and really our command, to stand up and say no to these things and to say Christ is here,” she added.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, were also present and noted that they were activists and community organizers before they became lawmakers.
“This is my Senate district and we are very familiar with Comunidades Unidas,” Escamilla said. “I’m one of the first board members of that organization many years ago.”
She noted that Figueroa’s situation “is another example of families being separated and destroyed” and called on Congress to “act now” in implementing a comprehensive immigration reform.
Romero echoed the sentiment, condemning the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“We have kids in our district who might be citizens and their parents might be aspiring to be citizens and they’re afraid to come home every day to think that maybe their parents are not going to be there,” Romero said.
Both state lawmakers admonished the administration’s recent actions to dismantle protections for migrants in the country who are seeking medical assistance for conditions that threaten their life or that of a close family member.
Speaking about how the policy will affect Utahns, Escamilla said “we’ve historically been a state that stands with families, and I hope we can go back and do that.”