Honduran immigrant Vicky Chavez was greeted by a cheering crowd on Thursday, as she stepped outside a Salt Lake City church for the first time in three years. The 33-year-old mother and her two daughters have been living in the First Unitarian Church since January 2018, when the congregation offered the family sanctuary from deportation.
“I have no words to thank them for giving me a safe home for over three years,” Chavez said Thursday, as reported by the Associated Press. “Today I can say that I’m full of love and happy to have arrived here.”
Chavez emerged from the building shortly after she was granted a one-year stay of removal in her immigration case, meaning she no longer has to fear immediate deportation. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Chavez entered the United States illegally in summer 2014, in an effort to escape an abusive relationship. She received a deportation order about one and a half years later and spent the following years trying to appeal the order and obtain asylum status. Unfortunately, her efforts failed to pay off.
At the beginning of 2018, Chavez had seemingly accepted defeat and purchased a plane ticket back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. However, she changed her mind at the last minute and turned to the First Unitarian Church for help. Immigration advocates say the church is the first in Utah to offer sanctuary from deportation.
“Vicky’s life is no longer on hold,” Rev. Tom Goldsmith, the First Unitarian’ minister, told reporters Thursday. “She leaves this church with a full grasp of the English language, a couple of hundred friends and the confidence to pursue her dreams.”
According to the Tribune, Chavez is among the six women living in sanctuary who was granted a stay under Joe Biden’s administration. She is also one of the women who have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging the agency slapped them with six-figure fines as a form of retaliation for publicly speaking about their cases. Chavez and the other plaintiffs are asking for the fines to be dropped, as well as “compensation for damages, and an apology from the government.”
Although she knows her legal battle isn’t over, she and her lawyers remain optimistic about her future in the States.
“There are millions of Vickys in this country — I’ve represented many of them,” her attorney, Skylar Anderson, said. “There aren’t enough churches to give sanctuary to all the Vickys of this country. This country needs to be that sanctuary.”
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