Salt Lake City resident Cecilia “Cecy” Figueroa has agreed to return to her native Mexicoby Monday rather than face deportation, unless immigration officials grant her an interview that could lead to an asylum claim, according to a local immigrant rights group.
Protesters in support of Figueroa rallied Friday outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in West Valley City. Figueroa did not attend the rally, but in a statement read in her absence she said she entered the U.S. without legal authorization in 2008 to get away from the growing violence in her home of Taxco, in the western Mexico state of Guerrero.
An expedited deportation order for Figueroa was triggered after her attorney led her to think — mistakenly — that she was eligible to apply to be a legal permanent resident, said Maria Montes, the community engagement and advocacy coordinator for Comunidad Unidas.
Figueroa has been working with the organization since 2013 promoting health education in the Latino community. Immigration officers detained Figueroa Monday during an appointment at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Salt Lake City.
“My biggest mistake was crossing the border without a visa and I only did that because I was so afraid of violence that me and my family were living back at home,” Figueroa said in a statement.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees U.S. immigration courts, said it “could not comment on immigration judge decisions as the decisions speak for themselves.”
About 100 community members gathered outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office chanting “Let Cecy stay!” State Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City and state Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, also attended the rally. As state officials, Escamilla said there was not much they could do because immigration is a federal issue.
“We’ve been asking for comprehensive immigration reform … it’s been 30 years,” Escamilla, who’s running for Salt Lake City mayor, said. “We need to change, we need reform, we need to make those congressmen and congresswomen accountable for not making the bills and not making it happen.”
Romero urged everyone who can vote to get involved in the electoral process.
Friends and colleagues of Figueroa were among the event’s speakers.
Kate Brainerd was Figueroa’s teacher when she was enrolled in the adult education program at the Guadalupe School in the Rose Park neighborhood in west Salt Lake City. She cited a recent comment by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenships and Immigration Services, who said, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
“I would ask Mr. Cuccinelli what he would say to Cecilia Figueroa because she is not just working in Salt Lake City, she is working for Salt Lake City,” Brainard said.
Dora Greco was part of Figueroa’s health education team at Comunidades Unidas. Greco said she couldn’t believe Figueroa has to leave the country.
“This is an unfair thing,” Greco said. “If she had been a bad immigrant or done something bad I would understand but she works for us. She works for the community.”
Maria Montes with Comunidades Unidas said they are hoping immigration officials will let Figueroa stay in the country so she can start an asylum case. Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams has been helping the organization put pressure on immigration officials to make this happen, Montes said. McAdams spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said she could not confirm whether he had offered assistance.