Instead of turning herself over to immigration officials, Francisca Lino is taking sanctuary in the same Chicago church that protected immigration activist Elvira Arellano.
Lino, 50, a Bolingbrook resident and mother of six children — five of them U.S. citizens — was scheduled to meet with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials Wednesday. Instead, she held a West Side news conference at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park.
“I feel sad that I had to do this and defy the law to be with my children, but we’re going to keep fighting this case,” Lino said.
The small church was packed with about 50 supporters, including Arellano, who said she would “have her back.” Several people cheered “si se puede,” or “yes we can,” as Lino addressed reporters.
Her lawyer, Chris Bergin, said he showed up to Lino’s appointment and delivered a letter to immigration officials explaining that she had decided against self-deportation.
“I made it clear that she will not be hiding from the ICE officers but that she is asking instead for protection from her God,” Bergin said.
Though churches can’t guarantee protection, they are generally off limits to law enforcement raids. A 2011 memo from the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement instructed federal agents to avoid “sensitive locations” including hospitals, schools and houses of worship unless there is an imminent risk.
Critics say sanctuary spaces are unfair to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who emigrate to the U.S. legally each year. Americans who believe immigration laws need to be enforced more rigorously helped elect President Donald Trump.
Lino, who was deported once before, was arrested in 2005 during an interview to obtain her green card because her application did not disclose she had been arrested at the border in 1999, according to Bergin. But he said Lino was the victim of notary fraud and that she had been honest with immigration officials from the start.
She was handed a deportation notice in March during a scheduled ICE check-in and was told to return to the immigration office Wednesday with a plane ticket for Friday.
Lino is among many immigrants who the government knows are living in the country illegally and have been allowed to stay, provided they check in with immigration officials every six months to a year. Under the previous administration, they were not considered priorities for deportation because of their clean criminal records or sympathetic cases.
“Under President Obama I was allowed to stay with my children. I checked in as required. I work, pay taxes and raise my children with my beloved husband. I do not believe that the policies of the current administration represent the hearts and minds of the majority of the people in this nation,” she said.
Lino illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 1999 but was caught, fingerprinted and released after a few hours. At the time, low-level immigration officers could expeditiously deport anyone who crossed the border without due process, Bergin said.
“Those laws were brand new. They didn’t give her any kind of access to an attorney or explain what was going on or what the ramifications were,” he said. “We are going to try to explore every legal and political means to get her right with the law.”
After a few days, she made a second attempt and successfully crossed the border. She eventually settled in Bolingbrook with her husband, Diego Lino, a U.S. citizen. The couple had four children, though both Diego and Francisca had children from previous relationships.
Once they were married, Lino applied for a green card in 2005. Immigration officials accepted their money, brought the couple in for an interview and arrested Lino, Bergin said.
By that point, Lino had obtained a work permit, driver’s license and social security number through a notary public who Linda said had apparently withheld mention of her initial arrest at the border.
“She told me that everything was going to work out, that I’d have to pay a fee for entering the country illegally but that everything was going to be fine,” Lino said. “I was fine until the day I showed up for my final immigration appointment.”
An immigration officer asked her if she had ever been arrested and she admitted that she had. But her application said otherwise.
“I told them I didn’t know why it said that because I was honest with the person who filled out the application. But he said ‘no, you’re lying to me. You have to go,'” she said.
Lino plans to stay in sanctuary for at least 90 days, after which she’ll be considered a fugitive by law. But Bergin said he would contest that label.
“I don’t think she is a fugitive because I told them she’s not hiding from them,” he said. “I gave them the address and the location. She isn’t hiding on a train like a fugitive, she’s here in plain sight.”
Lino has checked in with ICE at least three times in the last six months, Bergin said.
“Mrs. Lino is the perfect example of someone that you would not prioritize for deportation but things have changed recently,” he said. “Right now, we want to make this right. We want to explore any federal legal action but it’s been difficult so far.”
In the meantime, Lino will live with Pastor Jacobita Cortes at the Humboldt Park church. Her husband will stay with their youngest children, twin 15-year-olds, in Bolingbrook.
Arellano said she met Lino in 2003 while working on immigration advocacy efforts. She said the Lino family were there for her while she was in sanctuary at Humboldt Park and that it’s now time to return the favor.
In August 2006, Arellano was told to report to the Department of Homeland Security for removal but instead sought refuge at the Humboldt Park church with her then-7-year-old son, Saul, a U.S. citizen.
A year after taking sanctuary in the church, Arellano was arrested in Los Angeles at an immigration reform rally. She returned to the U.S. in 2014 with her son and his then-infant brother and is still awaiting a hearing on her petition for political asylum, which she filed three years ago.
Saul Arellano, now 18, also spoke at the news conference. He said there are “millions of other people going through the same thing.”
“If we need to get arrested, then that’s what we will do,” he said. “But what I know is that we are a family and we are going to fight as one. So to all of the people who ever told me that they will have my back — now is the time to have mine and hers.”