Guatemalan refugee in Charlottesville shares her experience

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Maria Chavalan Sut, a 44-year-old indigenous woman from Guatemala, is taking refuge at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church after she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to find freedom.

Sut is from an indigenous town of Keqchikel, where she witnessed violence during the Guatemala Civil War and genocide.

Her village was burned down, and because of the war, her family was displaced.

"From the internal war that happened, we were displaced," said Sut. "They call it Tierra Arrasada that they had to displace us."

At this moment, Maria also witnessed her uncles and cousins buried alive.

"They killed my uncles because they started to kill the men in six days," said Sut.

Sut said she owes it to her dad who saved her from the village.

"I feel fortunate because a lot of people my age died," she said.

Despite the hardship of poverty, marginalization, and persecution, Sut went to school to become an educator.

She taught math to teenagers who could not attend school and worked at a self-publishing company in Guatemala City where she distributed and produced works in her native language, Kaqchikel.

In 2014, a group threatened Sut if she didn't sell her land. When she refused to sell it, the group held true to its promise and burned her home while her family was inside.

With the threat of war and violence, she said she wanted to seek freedom in the United States for a new chapter.

"I want to be free. I want to work, to go out and work," said Sut. "I see here you have to have legal papers to do that. I just want to be a free person."

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement threatened to deport Sut and gave her a deadline, which was September 2018, to fly back to Guatemala.

Instead, she took sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church to present her asylum case.

However, Sut never got the chance to present her asylum case to an immigration judge and is challenging this through of a motion to reopen her case.

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