Updated 6:33 p.m. MDT 9/3/19
A Salt Lake City activist has avoided deportation — for now — following protests against her removal last week, an immigrant rights group said Tuesday.
Cecilia ‘Cecy’ Figueroa, 55, was scheduled to return Monday to her hometown in Guerrero, Mexico. Immigration officials informed her Friday evening that she could stay in the country to ask for asylum, said Luis Garza, the executive director of Comunidades Unidas, the local immigrant rights organization supporting Figueroa.
The government’s decision came just hours after about 100 people protested Figueroa’s scheduled removal outside of the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs, or ICE, in West Valley City.
An ICE spokeswoman said Figueroa was released on humanitarian grounds after her application to change her immigration status was denied last week. The agency said Figueroa told ICE officers she would return to Mexico on Monday, but has not.
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.
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.