A few days ago, Emma Lozano, an immigrant rights activist and religious pastor, received an awkward call from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent asking about Francisca Lino, a Mexican immigrant who has been in sanctuary since 2017 in the Adalbert United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park.
It was disturbing for Lozano, since in the past four years no one has sought or bothered Francisca for being a refugee in that church since she refused to obey an order to leave the country.
“At the moment I thought that the ICE agents were outside,” said Lozano, who soon decided not to cooperate or give any information about Lino, a 54-year-old mother who is in precisely the same church where the famous immigrant Elvira Arellano took refuge for a year in 2006.
Lozano thought a raid was coming to arrest and deport Lino or perhaps just to investigate if she was still there.
Lozano soon reminded the agent that an order from the same ICE office, signed by its then director John Morton on October 24, 2011, is still in effect, prohibiting the incursion of federal troops into schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues and mosques of the country.
“Basically our best defense is knowing our rights,” said Lozano, pastor of Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen. “They can’t go into churches,” she said.
“Churches have a moral responsibility to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ and that means protecting refugees in hostile times like those of our time,” Lozano explained.
For her part, Lino, who said she was from “a little ranch” in Zacatecas, Mexico, said that the last four years have been difficult for her because she is separated from her family.
Her four daughters and two sons have been through various problems while she has been at the Humboldt Park compound.
“It has been too difficult not being with my children, but I am not a criminal or a terrorist, I do not even have a traffic violation,” she told this column.
Francisca has not been able to be with her family during graduations, the birth of her grandchildren or with a daughter who suffered a bout of depression. Before entering the sanctuary, her husband Diego had recovered from a heart attack caused by the same malevolent immigration situation.
The Mexican has been fighting to stay in this country since 2005, when she was denied permanent residence because she had been detained and deported in 1999. Then, in 2017, the immigration court ordered her to leave the country, but she preferred to fight to be close to her family.
Despite the time that she has been in sanctuary, more than the year that Elvira Arellano spent there, Francisca indicated that she is willing to continue fighting against unjust immigration laws until there is a change.
“I’m going to try to hold out as long as I can until the end,” she said with determination in her voice.