Charlottesville, VA: Woman Takes Sanctuary in Church, Fights Deportation

“I have lived all of my life with violence. My children are the reason I am fighting. I want them to live without all of the suffering I have experienced. Living in the church – this is the first time I can breathe; the first time I can sleep; the first time I have not felt afraid.”

– María Chavalan Sut

CHARLOTTESVILLE—María Chavalan Sut, a 44-year-old woman living in Virginia, announced today that she is taking public sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. After receiving a removal date of September 30, 2018 from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), María instead moved into Wesley Memorial UMC to continue pleading her case in the US Immigration Court system. Returning to Guatemala would mean death for María.

María is originally from the indigenous Keqchikel community in Guatemala. As a member of a persecuted ethnic group, María has a right to claim asylum, but is not being given the opportunity to exercise that right.

After passing a credible fear interview at the border, ICE released María to appear in court and present her case. Like many other asylum-seekers, the Notice to Appear that ICE provided to María did not include a date or time to appear.  Because ICE failed to provide María with accurate notice of her hearing date, she did not appear, and an immigration court ordered her removal. María is challenging the lack of notice she received through a motion to reopen her case which is pending before an immigration judge in Arlington. By ordering María to buy a plane ticket to Guatemala, ICE is depriving María of her due process right to make that challenge. ICE has chosen to ignore the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees by deporting her to likely imminent death.

At Wesley Memorial UMC, the congregation and the community have come together to lift up María and support her fight for safety and freedom. When asked to open their doors, the congregation said, “Yes” in less than 24 hours, welcoming María and mobilizing community members eager to help.

María will be sharing information about her case and campaign through Facebook and later other social media platforms:



Photo: “Charlottesville, VA Photos” by Brian Gerard Lewandowski is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0