For Undocumented Mom, Somewhere to Shelter, but Nowhere to Run

Originally published by NY Times

Ingrid Encalada Latorre, 33, spent the last six months living in a red brick Quaker meetinghouse in Denver, one of hundreds of religious communities in the United States offering refuge or other help to immigrants facing deportation. Supporters of these churches say they keep families together. Opponents say they harbor criminals at the expense of citizen parishioners who could use their aid.

Ms. Latorre came to the United States from Peru in 2000 at age 17. She took a nursing home job, and in 2010 authorities arrested her for using aSocial Security number that belonged to someone else. She pleaded guilty to a felony, spent two and a half months in jail, completed four and a half years of probation and paid $11,500 in back taxes. Then, facing deportation, she sought refuge in the church in November. (Federal policy instructs officials to avoid arresting immigrants in places of worship.)

She has two children, both citizens. In the meetinghouse, she lived in an upstairs bedroom, exercised on a stationary bicycle and cooked in a kitchen by the pews. Her son Anibal, 1, learned to walk there. Her son Bryant, 8, adapted to new rules: As visitors came and went, he reached for a key on a wall, unlocking and relocking the door.

On a recent Saturday, federal officials granted Ms. Latorre a three-month reprieve from deportation, meaning she could leave the church and possibly ask the government to reconsider her case. She stepped into the sun, gripping a bouquet and leading supporters to a nearby park. A reporter asked what she would do if authorities ordered her to leave again. “I will go,” she said. “I will take my children. Like it or not, I will have to leave. Because there will be no other option. Because I do not want to run from the law.”

Photographs by TODD HEISLER

Photographs by TODD HEISLER

During Ms. Latorre’s six months in the church, Bryant, front, split his time between the meetinghouse and his home, where he stayed with his father.

Ms. Latorre cooked meals for herself and for Anibal with food brought each week by volunteers.

Photographs by TODD HEISLER

Photographs by TODD HEISLER

Bryant played downstairs in the church.

Photographs by TODD HEISLER

Photographs by TODD HEISLER

For Anibal, the meetinghouse became more familiar than home, Ms. Latorre said.


Ms. Latorre had the run of the place on most days. On Sundays, when the pews filled with people, she mostly stayed upstairs.


On a recent day, federal officials granted Ms. Latorre a three-month reprieve from deportation, and supporters gathered to celebrate.


When she left the meetinghouse, Ms. Latorre walked to a nearby park, followed by a crowd. During the party that followed, people sang karaoke and Ingrid’s partner, Eliseo Jurado, cooked carne asada on the grill. As someone invited her to sing, he tried to coax her, unsuccessfully, to join.


Mr. Jurado’s truck, piled with Ms. Latorre’s belongings.


Ms. Latorre, joined by her family, left the meetinghouse. Upon entering her home, she lay on a bean bag chair in her sons’ bedroom. She rested for a few minutes, then sprang up to help her partner unpack.

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