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Mormon women, children and other concerned people gathered Thursday morning at Salt Lake City International Airport in a show of solidarity for an area woman who had been ordered by immigration agents to leave the United States.
The woman had been scheduled for an 11 a.m. flight bound for Colombia, said Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) spokeswoman Sharlee Mullins Glenn, but was unable to make it through security because the names on her passport and driver license did not match exactly.
She was rescheduled for a late-night flight, Mullins Glenn said, leaving advocates, immigration attorneys and representatives from Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch's office "scrambling to see if there can be something done" to keep her in the U.S.
In the afternoon, though, supporters were "holding out hope that there will maybe be a last-minute save," Mullins Glenn said. That glimmer of hope dimmed by evening, and the woman was expected to depart that night.
The Colombian Consulate in San Francisco has been in touch with the woman and her attorney, and although the consulate couldn't keep her in the U.S., it offered to help her assimilate into Colombia.
Earlier, the woman's friends and supporters from MWEG, Salt Lake Indivisible and Action Utah sang hymns, held protest signs and addressed news outlets about her predicament.
Isabel identified with a pseudonym by her supporters is a single mother and the sole caretaker for her disabled son, a U.S. citizen with mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy who recently turned 18, and her 86-year-old mother, a legal resident of the U.S. working to become a citizen, Mullins Glenn said.
The Colombian immigrant came to the U.S. legally more than 20 years ago with a fiancee visa, Mullins Glenn said, adding that the woman did not marry but chose to stay in the country. At one point she began the process to become a U.S. citizen, Mullins Glenn said, but after she received erroneous information, she withdrew her application.
The woman received a deportation order in 1997, but because of her son's special needs, she was permitted to stay in the U.S. and check in with immigration services periodically, Mullins Glenn said.
A federal immigration judge granted her "voluntary departure" in March 1999, according to a news release from ICE, but the voluntary departure order became a final order of removal when she did not leave the United States by May 4 of the same year. She was granted deferred action for one year in December 1999, according to ICE's statement.
Between March 2012 and August 2014, ICE approved three of the woman's requests for a one-year stay of deportation, ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok confirmed.
Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed the woman that its "priorities have shifted," according to Mullins Glenn, and that she must leave the country by April 6.
The immigrant had apparently been working toward legal residency for years, Mullins Glenn said, and her attorney was out of the country Thursday. Isabel has an "exemplary" record, Mullins Glenn said, and is a woman of courage and faith who is active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her son had recently submitted an application to serve a Mormon service mission, Mullins Glenn noted.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins responded to a request for comment by referring to a previous statement from the LDS Church on immigration, which says, "Families are meant to be together. Forced separation of working parents from their children weakens families and damages society," but adds: "We acknowledge that every nation has the right to enforce its laws and secure its borders. All persons subject to a nation's laws are accountable for their acts in relation to them."
Judi Hilman, spokeswoman for Salt Lake Indivisible, said that while this is a specific case, it sheds light on the wider issue of a broken immigration system and, as Mullins Glenn described it, "atrocities committed in the name of ICE."
The nation's "heavy-handed and inhumane deportation policy is tearing apart Utah families," demonstration organizers said in a news release.
MWEG member Brianna Chambers, of Orem, brought her two young children to the rally. Chambers carried a sign that said: "Thaw your hearts of ICE: Do what is right!"
She is a student at Brigham Young University, she said, and skipped class to come to the rally.
"There are some things that you just have to stand up for," Chambers said.
On the way to the airport, she said her 4-year-old was concerned about "why this mommy had to go to another country" and was worried something might happen to their family. She assured him that she wasn't going anywhere and that they were trying "to help other families stay together, too."
According to Hilman, staffers at Hatch's office worked Wednesday to try to win the woman an extension on her deportation order, but to no avail. The best-case scenario, Mullins Glenn said, is that when Isabel's son turns 21, he can submit a request to bring her back to the U.S. Advocates also reached out to Sen. Mike Lee, the American Civil Liberties Union and other state and local representatives.
The woman was at home Thursday when she received a call at 8:47 a.m., explaining that her request for an extension was denied and she needed to get to the airport, Mullins Glenn said. ICE would not provide her with a reason for the denial, Mullins Glenn added, leaving Isabel "extremely disappointed."
The activists who gathered at the airport called on government representatives to act and prevent these types of situations in the future.
These stories have a "chilling effect" on the Hispanic and immigrant community, said Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas. The organization had been in contact with Isabel "for years," he said, and has worked directly with at least three Utah families in a similar situation since President Donald Trump took office. Groups like those at the airport help bring those stories to light, Garza said.
The airport gathering served to "show solidarity for our sister," Mullins Glenn said, "and to pray that these inhumane orders that tear apart families and strike at the very heart of our Utah values will end."
Families affected by deportation need support and help with basic needs, like food, clothes and shelter, Garza said, adding that he hopes more groups will step forward to provide support.
Garza called the protest a call to action for government representatives to "put pressure on the Trump administration to stop doing this."
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tiffany Frandsen contributed to this story.