Facing deportation, mother of 3 granted sanctuary in Bethesda church

BETHESDA, Md. — Rosa Gutierrez Lopez, a 40-year-old mother of three, had been ordered by immigration officials to get on a plane this week to El Salvador, the country she fled in 2005.

Instead, the Fredericksburg, Virginia, resident has been granted sanctuary at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, in Bethesda.

Guiterrez Lopez’s three children, ages 11, 9 and 6, were all born in the United States. Her youngest child has special needs.

The church held a welcoming ceremony Wednesday, where supporters encouraged her to continue her legal battle to stay in the U.S.

“The reason I took sanctuary is because I love my children and do not want to leave my country,” Gutierrez Lopez said, through an interpreter. “I want to fight from here.”

Her children are staying with her pastor in Fredericksburg, but will be able to visit her in the Bethesda church, where she will live in a small apartment.

Rosa Gutierrez Lopez (third from right) during a ‘welcome ceremony’ at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, where she has been granted sanctuary while she fights her deportation to El Salvador. (Courtesy DMV Sanctuary Congregations Network)

Gutierrez Lopez had come to the U.S. seeking asylum. In a statement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said she failed to appear in immigration court in January 2006, and was ordered deported.

In 2014 she began checking in regularly with immigration officials.

In 2017, ICE gave her an ankle monitor and required her to check in every two weeks. She was ordered to leave the country on Dec. 10.

Her lawyer filed a motion in November to reopen her immigration case.

With the help of DMV Sanctuary Congregations Network, a group of D.C.-area churches that aim to shelter immigrants, the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church agreed to have Gutierrez Lopez live there.

Church officials said immigration officials are aware that Gutierrez Lopez is there, and they are not hiding anything, noting ICE policy precludes enforcement actions in “sensitive locations,” including churches.

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