GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — An immigrant who has been living in a Quaker meeting house to avoid deportation held back her fear of being arrested and ventured out to court Wednesday to fight for a chance to remain in the country.
After praying with supporters in a hallway, Ingrid Encalada Latorre testified in a bid to withdraw her guilty plea in a 2010 identity theft case involving her purchase of immigration papers. She claims she did not know the documents were stolen.
“I want to be able to stay in this country with my family and my children,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter in Jefferson County court in Golden, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the meeting house in Denver where she has lived for six months with her youngest son.
No uniformed immigration agents were visible at the court and the hearing proceeded normally.
Latorre, a native of Cusco, Peru, is trying to get her conviction changed to a misdemeanor in the hope it would make her less likely to be deported. She contended that her lawyers failed to properly represent her.
Judge Dennis Hall agreed and said Wednesday that he will hold another hearing on whether she can change her plea.
Jeff Joseph, an immigration attorney who is representing Latorre, said there was no indication that immigration agents would arrest his client, but he filed a stay of deportation in case she had been been targeted when she left the meeting house.
“We’re hopeful that given the very big victory that we had today in court that ICE would see fit to grant the stay so that Ingrid can stay here and vindicate her rights,” he said.
Some judicial officials around the country have asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop using courthouses as places to find and arrest people wanted for immigration violations, fearing it could lead people to be afraid to report crimes and participate in the judicial system.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have defended the practice, saying visitors to courthouses already are screened for weapons.
Among the supporters of Latorre gathered in the courthouse was another immigrant who spent nine months living in the basement of another church in 2014 and 2015 before being assured he was not a priority for deportation.
Arturo Hernandez was arrested April 26 by immigration agents when he went to a warehouse as part of a job. He was temporarily freed late Tuesday following intervention by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Carl Rusnok said Hernandez was granted a 30-day deportation delay but did not provide more details.
Bennet, a Democrat, filed a bill to help Hernandez and said he asked the agency for more time to process his case.
Hernandez’s lawyers plan to use the delay to appeal his case and try to keep him from being returned to Mexico, saying they have identified “missed opportunities” in his family’s nearly 25-year fight to win permanent residency. The delay will also allow him to attend his 17-year-old daughter’s high school graduation.
Hernandez said he hoped Latorre would soon be with her family.
He said he thought he would be deported the same day he was picked up because his case had received so much publicity, but by the next day he saw growing public support and he started to feel a little better.
Latorre had about two dozen supporters in the courtroom and another 100 outside.
Barbara Mills-Bria, a retired structural engineer and president of an activist group called Be the Change, said she was prepared to be arrested herself to protect Latorre but declined to say specifically what that meant.
“What harm has she done? Why would they target her? The Trump administration said they’re targeting murderers and rapists. She’s just a woman living her life,” she said.
Supporters surrounded Latorre as she walked down a courthouse hall after the hearing and enveloped her as she entered an elevator to leave.
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