Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

This immigrant has uplifting tips on making quarantine work. He's been living like this for a year

caption: Keiko Maruyama and Jaime Rubio Sulficio pose for a portrait.
Enlarge Icon
Keiko Maruyama and Jaime Rubio Sulficio pose for a portrait.
Hardy Photography

For about a month, Seattle residents have been isolating in their homes to combat the coronavirus. It can be hard during this time to feel connected or maintain a sense of normalcy.

One local immigrant man has been living a similar version of this reality for a year, never leaving the church he took sanctuary in. If he left, he could risk deportation.


here’s a few ways Jaime Rubio Sulficio deals with being alone.

First, he reads a lot of books.

His last read was The Book of Joy, by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It discusses how to achieve happiness even in times of deep grief.

Sulficio also has two purring companions. Toto, the cat with white socks and her sister Keira, who keep him company.

And lastly, he cooks — really cooks, as an art and as a mindful practice.

"I used to be so busy that I never really have a time to pause and really focus on one thing at a time," Sulficio says over FaceTime.

Recently, he made a vegan tortilla soup from scratch. His wife Keiko Maruyama said her favorite is his baked chicken, complete with fresh rosemary and a special sauce.

When we talk, Sulficio is a little nervous and fidgets with his hands.

He shares that he has been in sanctuary at Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle for a little over a year.

Sulficio is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He was ordered to leave the U.S. last spring. But that would mean leaving his wife and 7-year-old son behind. While his immigration case is pending, he took refuge at the church, living there with his family.

"I still have friends communicate and they asked me, 'So how do you do it?'" he says with a laugh. "Because I've been in quarantine for almost a year so I'm kind of a pro already!"

ICE officials avoid "sensitive locations" like churches or hospitals for the most part, so this is a way for the family to buy themselves time.

Sulficio admits it was difficult choice. He had to walk away from his construction business. His family left behind their home in Shoreline and they had to figure out child care and finances.

"Being in sanctuary was pretty challenging mentally because I had to adjust that I can no longer be part of the exterior world. The first three months that was really like a battle," he says.

Sulficio used to step outside. But not anymore.

Maruyama is on the video call with us and mostly keeps her eyes on her husband as we talk.

This time has been tough on her, too. She became the main breadwinner, and luckily still has a job with a local jewelry store, despite the coronavirus outbreak. But she knows that could change.

While Maruyama and Sulficio are in a more unique situation than many who are quarantining across the U.S., they also have a special insight into adapting to major, heartbreaking sacrifice.

Talking to Sulficio, he’s the first to point out the positives.

"I learned to be a better partner you know, a better parent — better Dad," he says.

He talks about learning to connect with friends online, staying busy with reading, and cooking. He also does his best to volunteer inside the church with construction projects. But he acknowledges that despite his bright attitude, it’s not always easy to be hopeful.

"I think this is part of human feeling," Sulficio says. "You have to experience that sadness, the desperation. I have it too, you know. I get depressed, and I feel that I cannot handle it anymore. So it’s okay to not be okay. It’s gonna pass. This will not last forever."

caption: Palm Sunday at Saint Marks Cathedral in Seattle where church members spread out from each other to maintain social distancing. April 05, 2020.
Enlarge Icon
Palm Sunday at Saint Marks Cathedral in Seattle where church members spread out from each other to maintain social distancing. April 05, 2020.


n a Palm Sunday, it’s partially sunny. Inside, Saint Mark's, the choir fills the cathedral with song.

Somewhere in the church, Sulficio, Maruyama, their son, and their two cats are hearing this music too.

For this family, the pandemic is not what first changed their lives. But it is something that's forced them to think about how to live a fulfilling life when it’s limited in other ways.

For his part, Sulficio explains, "Freedom doesn't come from ... just being able to go places. It's about a state of mind. For me, I'd be able to see my wife and I'd be able to see my kid. From time to time, I connect with friends. That's what gives me freedom."

Weeks or months from now, when most of us are finally able to leave our homes after this outbreak, Sulficio will likely remain indoors. He'll be waiting hopefully for a day when his immigration case wraps up, his sanctuary ends, and he is able to join the world outside.

And until then, we wait together.

Why you can trust KUOW