An indigenous woman from Guatemala is taking sanctuary in a Charlottesville church to avoid being deported.
Maria Chavalan Sut, 44, has been living at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church for a little more than a week, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement said she would be removed from the country on Sept. 30.
“They have been pressuring me that I have to buy my ticket to leave to Guatemala,” she said Monday at a news conference.
Chavalan Sut, who had been living in the Richmond area, came to the U.S. in 2015 after she was threatened and her home was set on fire with her entire family inside in an effort to take her land. She and her four children survived, but all of their belongings burned.
She is originally from the indigenous Kaqchikel community.
“She actually has a really good case for asylum, but she hasn’t been able to present that case for asylum because ICE neglected to put a date and time on her notice to appear, as is required by law,” Alina Kilpatrick, an attorney who working is on Chavalan Sut’s case, said at the press conference.
Kilpatrick said Chavalan Sut has a motion to reopen her case pending before the Arlington Immigration Court that challenges the lack of notice she received.
“I am here to stand up to this administration and do everything I can within the law ... and will lob at them everything possible until Maria and all of my other clients are safe and free,” Kilpatrick said.
Virginia does not have “sanctuary cities,” but ICE has a policy barring arrests at sensitive locations, such as schools, medical treatment and health care facilities and places of worship, except in “exigent circumstances,” according to the agency’s website.
“Enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided,” the agency’s website says. “ICE officers and agents may conduct an enforcement action at a sensitive location if there are exigent circumstances, if other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location or with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official.”
In a circumstance similar to Chavalan Sut’s, First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond is hosting Abbie Arevalo-Herrera and two of her children, after the deadline to reach an agreement in her immigration case lapsed.
“Maria is no longer alone in this country,” said Pastor Isaac Collins. “We have welcomed her into our church to provide sanctuary for as long as she needs it.”
Collins said the community has rallied around Chavalan Sut and the church.
“In Christ, there is no such thing as citizenship, in Christ there are no borders, there is only the kingdom,” Collins said. “And in that kingdom, Maria’s right to be free is unquestioned, it’s untroubled by worldly politics and so we lift our voices with Maria to say that she deserves to be free.”
He also called on other predominantly white churches to become sanctuary churches.
“White churches, we have the resources to create a massive nationwide sanctuary movement,” Collins said. “We have the funds. The only question is, do we have the moral courage? The only question is, have we heard the good news of Jesus Christ?”