Chicago.- Unable to get out, even to go to the corner to wash laundry, Beatriz Santiago-Ramírez, an undocumented immigrant from Veracruz, has lived in the sanctuary at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Little Village for a month and a half to avoid being deported.
“I decided to leave my family in Mexico to become someone [in the U.S.],” said Santiago-Ramírez, a 32-year-old single mother of two children, Donato Castillo, 3, and Irán Castillo, 7 months.
In 2004, Santiago-Ramírez was working in a cheese factory and sold all her belongings, including bicycles, clothes and other things, until she managed to save $2,000 to come to the U.S. Wearing two layers of clothing and carrying only a few belongings, she and her cousins crossed over small mountains during their four days of walking in the desert on her way to the U.S. border.
Church leaders applaud her effort and offered her shelter.
“It’s part of the gospel to open the doors to the people who ask for statuary,” José Landaverde, priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe, said. “Especially when they suffer persecution by the federal government.”
Santiago-Ramírez said the struggle to reach the U.S. was dangerous, trying and difficult. During her journey to the U.S., she and her cousin fell many times along the way. Finally they managed to reach Phoenix.
Their cousins were waiting to drive them to Florida, where they got a job picking oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and planting tomatoes and chilies.
Two years later, she decided to go back to Mexico by herself — but not for long.
When she decided to return to the U.S., this time with her sister, they encountered coyotes. They thought they were going to die.
Finally, they made it to Phoenix again. This time, her cousins took them to Missouri.
“Empezar de cero,” said Santiago-Ramírez, meaning “to start from zero.”
Santiago-Ramirez said they slept in the car of a friend of her cousin while they saved money to start over. She found two jobs in factories in Southern Illinois in Collinsville.
Every morning she packed Dove shampoo, conditioner and soap. During the afternoons, she packed onions, tomatoes and corn on the cob. She had no time between jobs to sleep.
In 2009, Santiago-Ramirez went to a party that changed her life forever.
She went to a gas station to look for alcohol for her friends, but found the station closed. A man she calls “el blanco” (white person) told her he knew about an open liquor store. She decided to let him into her car to drive to the store, but she never made it.
“El blanco” sexually abused her and stole everything she had, including her wallet, which she kept under the driver’s seat.
After the incident, she went to a hospital and reported the man to local police, but the authorities never charged him in the crime – she believed it was because she’s undocumented.
In 2010, Santiago-Ramírez met the father of her children, and Donato was born the following year. Her daughter, Irán, was later born also in Illinois.
At that point she wanted to stay in the country, so she applied for the U Visa. This particular visa is given to victims of certain crimes, allowing them temporary legal status and work eligibility in the U.S. for up to four years. Her application for the visa was denied.
“If [my children] were born here, they have the right to be here,” she said.
This year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers moved to deport her.
“On Aug. 11, Beatriz asked me for sanctuary,” Landaverde said. He said Santiago-Ramírez is going to stay in the sanctuary for as long as she needs to be there.
She asks only that the person who is deciding her immigration status will “soften his heart.”
Landaverde said he is not the one who opens the sanctuary doors — it’s the gospel.
“If someone asks for help,” Landaverde said. “I will help them.”