By Brad Poole
TUCSON Ariz. (Reuters) - Federal officials have denied an undocumented immigrant's application to remain in the United States, leaving her to live in sanctuary, and legal limbo, at a southern Arizona church.
Rosa Robles Loreto, a homeowner and housekeeper who has lived in Tucson since 1999, took sanctuary at the city's Southside Presbyterian Church on Aug. 7 after an appeal of her deportation case was rejected.
She was set to be deported the following day, and since then she has been living at the church with her husband, Gerardo, and their 11- and 8-year-old sons. All four are Mexican citizens living illegally in the United States.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said on Monday it will not close her case nor grant her a stay of deportation, though it does not intend to arrest her.
"After conducting a thorough review of Ms. Robles Loreto's immigration case, ICE has decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion by not taking immediate action on (her) removal order," the agency said in a statement.
The announcement leaves Robles Loreto in legal limbo.
She is still under an order of removal and could be deported, if she were to be caught by local police and turned over to Border Patrol agents. The church plans to continue to fight on her behalf, said Pastor Alison Harrington.
The church does not provide any legal protection for Robles Loreto but gives her a personal sanctuary as she continues her legal battle. ICE policy bars arrests in sensitive areas unless there is a threat to public safety or national security.
"We will continue to ask ICE to issue a stay of removal for Rosa Robles Loreto until the agency fully understands that thousands of Tucsonans, faith leaders and elected officials have or are preparing to act on behalf of this super-achieving mother and community member," Harrington said.
Robles Loreto has been fighting deportation since she was identified by ICE officials after a traffic stop, detained by Border Patrol agents and later released, said her attorney, Margo Cowan.
She appealed the deportation order, arguing that she has deep ties to the United States, including her family, a job, and a home she owns. She asked Southside Presbyterian for help after ICE rejected her appeal.
The latest ICE rejection "signals a broader tendency to undermine the principles articulated by the Obama administration," the church said in a statement, referring to a 2011 memo from then-ICE Director John Morton that made many non-criminal immigrants with longstanding ties to their communities a low priority for deportation.
Cowan said Obama had made it clear on several occasions that people such as Robles Loreto should not be deported.
"We ask the administration to reconsider their decision and grant Rosa a stay of removal or deferred action," Cowan said.
(Reporting by Brad Poole; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jim Loney)