An Immigrant-Rights Advocate Gave Birth to Her Baby in a Church to Avoid ICE

An Immigrant-Rights Advocate Gave Birth to Her Baby in a Church to Avoid ICE

Originally published by The Daily Beast

In the face of increasing crackdowns and raids on immigrant communities under the Trump administration, undocumented people across the country are going to extraordinary lengths to keep their families together. Few, however, have matched the efforts of Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a 36-year-old Peruvian immigrant and mother of three.

Two weeks ago, Latorre gave birth to her daughter in the recreation room of a Colorado church where she has claimed sanctuary since December 2017—the safest place to do so, she said, when stepping off of church property could mean being permanently separated from her children.

“Having a baby is always a light of life,” Latorre told The Daily Beast from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, where she is recuperating after a 15-hour natural birth, conducted with the help of a midwife. “I am excited to have my beautiful baby girl and my two sons, who I love very much. My life continues, and this broken system will not stop my fight to keep my family together.”

For congregants and ministers at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Latorre’s choice has been a heartening example of the strength of its faith community—and an opportunity to advocate for reforming a broken immigration system. First-term Democratic star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Latorre, and the office of Gov. Jared Polis have expressed an openness to the possibility of granting her clemency.

Ocasio-Cortez, sharing a photo of her meeting with a star-struck Lattore, tweeted that “if we had a functioning immigration system w/ real paths to citizenship, we wouldn’t have to live like this.”

“If we can draw more public attention to her case, I’m hoping that we can convince more hearts and minds who will in turn make their voices heard about what’s happening right now in our name in terms of the federal immigration policies that are just not reflective of our humanity or value as Americans,” Rep. Joe Neguse, whose district includes Boulder, told local publication Westword.

Latorre has lived in the United States since she first came here as a teenager from her native Peru, eventually settling in the Denver area, where she had two sons with her long-term partner. But when Latorre was arrested for purchasing a Social Security number in order to work, the resulting conviction made her deportation from the country a top priority of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“She didn’t know other ways that were available to her in our system, but that is a crime, and she was reported and arrested,” the Rev. Eric Posa, the interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, told The Daily Beast. “It’s normally a misdemeanor, but she got bad legal advice that told her to plead guilty to a felony, which she did, not realizing how that would affect her immigration status.”

As her family grew, Latorre sought the safety and sanctuary of various religious institutions along Colorado’s Front Range. For a few months, she and her two boys—11-year-old Bryant and preschooler Anibal—took sanctuary at a Quaker meeting house in Denver. When that ended, she took sanctuary at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Fort Collins. For nearly two years, however, the young family have made their home within the East Boulder church.I am excited to have my beautiful baby girl and my two sons, who I love very much. My life continues, and this broken system will not stop my fight to keep my family together.— Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a 36-year-old Peruvian immigrant and mother of three

“We talk about the joy of new life at the church, but I’ve got to say, in my career,” said Posa, “it’s never been as literally true about new life being added to the church as happened here.”

The church, which had voted to become a sanctuary congregation a few months before Latorre and her sons joined, underwent some “light remodeling” in advance, Posa said.

“We wanted to make sure the family had a shower available, for example. That’s not something that every church building has, so we do now!” said Posa, a 14-year minister who has served as interim minister at the Boulder congregation since this summer. “We’ve been happy to have her as part of our church ever since.”

From within the walls of the church—where ICE’s “sensitive location” policy generally forbids enforcement activities without prior approval—Latorre has founded ¡No Mas Chuecos!, an advocacy campaign that seeks to inform undocumented people about the dangers of purchasing fake identification and Social Security numbers, and to educate people about the legal means undocumented people can use to gain access to employment.

Through her own example, Latorre hopes to “disrupt the narrative of what it means to be an immigrant in this country,” said Katie Larson, who helps organize the campaign.

The campaign, Posa said, is part of Latorre’s refusal to “put the rest of her life on hold” just because she is in sanctuary—as was her decision to have her daughter, which Posa called “the single most incredible act of defiance against an unjust immigration system that I can imagine.”

“In a system that would tell people that they are less human than those who are native-born citizens—and especially those of us with white skin—and in a system that would actively discourage the rest of us as treating Ingrid and others like her as fully human, she decided not to limit and pare down her life, but to expand her family,” Posa said. “Ingrid knows full well the dangers and the perils of her situation, and it is such a commitment to life to make a choice to grow her family and to bring new life into the world.”

Even with the church’s full support, Latorre still had to make a monumental decision: whether to have her baby in a church—whose light renovations did not include a birthing suite—or to go to a hospital, and risk possible deportation.

The decision, Posa said, was always left up to Latorre.

“We actually did not know, very intentionally, until the last minute what her plan was for delivery,” Posa said, reasoning that if word had somehow slipped out what her birthing plan was, it could have put her at risk of deportation. Since all of her children are native-born U.S. citizens, that would also mean being separated from her sons and newborn daughter, potentially permanently.

Despite the stakes of the decision, Posa said that Latorre remained clear-headed throughout her pregnancy.

“‘Scared’ is not a word I associate with Ingrid Encalada Latorre,” Posa said, laughing, “but she knows the risks. She knew that there was a real risk if she had chosen to leave the grounds of our church to seek medical attention. Since her focus is on keeping her family together, she decided to minimize the risk of separation by having the child in her church.”

On Sept. 16, slightly after 7 p.m. local time, Latorre gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth.

“We talk about the joy of new life at the church, but I’ve got to say, in my career,” said Posa, “it’s never been as literally true about new life being added to the church as happened here.”

For now, Latorre is focused on recuperating—and on pursuing a pardon from Polis for her identity theft conviction so that she can pursue legal permanent residency in the United States. She and Posa are hopeful that Polis will recognize the work she has done not only to keep her family together, but to help others avoid the same error that she made.

Polis’ office indicated to The Daily Beast that such a pardon is not outside the realm of possibility, both for Latorre and other undocumented people in Colorado.

“For far too long, Congress has failed to take action and enact real solutions to our immigration challenges. In the meantime, the governor is in the final stages of composing a clemency board,” said Conor Cahill, Polis’ press secretary. “Once established, the board can evaluate clemency applications with regard to both immigration and non-immigration related cases.”

In the meantime, Posa said that Latorre and her family are welcome to stay in the church’s care for as long as they need.

“The energy in the congregation is really high and positive right now,” Posa said. “With there being so much negativity and so much concern in the world and especially around those who have immigrated to our country, it’s been a blessing to have something to feel joy about.”

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