Undocumented woman can leave sanctuary for first time in years
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- For the past few years, a Guatemalan woman has been taking sanctuary in a Charlottesville church, fearing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would deport her.
Starting Wednesday, she can breathe a little easier. ICE won't ask her to leave for at least a year, which gives her more time to challenge the deportation order.
Maria Chavalan Sut fled Guatemala to save her life, as her indigenous community faced persecution, and her house was set on fire with her and her children still inside of it.
"All the time, looking for protection," Sut said in Spanish.
She came to the United State seeking asylum. She was held in detention at the border for more than a month.
"When she was released, she was given a notice to appear [in court]. The notice to appear did not contain a date and time for her to appear in immigration court," said Alina Kilpatrick, Sut's attorney.
The particular court hearing was a master calendar hearing, in which the noncitizen notifies officials that they are not a U.S. citizen and they'll be seeking asylum.
In 2018, ICE sought Sut's deportation because she didn't attend the event, the date and time of which she was never notified.
"If ICE had actually provided the date and time of her court appearance on her notice to appear, as the law requires, she would have actually appeared," Kilpatrick said. "It's sad that the cop on the street can tell you when to go to court when he gives you a speeding ticket, but the Department of Homeland Security can't tell immigrants the date and time of their court hearing when they're released from detention."
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church (WMUMC) in Charlottesville accepted Sut for sanctuary so that she'd be safe from ICE taking her away. She's been confined to the church for nearly two and half years.
"[Noncitizens] live with a lot of fear," Sut said. "A lot of people have experienced that fear from the pandemic, and we have been experiencing that fear for much longer."
On Wednesday, Sut learned that ICE issued a one-year Stay of Removal. It's a formal promise that immigration services won't execute her deportation order for at least a year, giving her more time to challenge it.
"I am very happy. It's a wonderful piece of news," Sut said.
"We're all so happy for Maria, and this is something that we've hoped and prayed for, for a very long time," said Rosina Snow of WMUMC.
For the next few months, Sut can walk the streets of Charlottesville without the fear of deportation looming.
"It's like a small vaccine against fear," she said.
Though good news for Sut, the Stay of Removal does not affect the motion to reopen her case directly. However, it does give her a little more time and a little more peace of mind.