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Politics & Government

After Three Years Of Living In Sanctuary, A Honduran Mother Asks President Joe Biden For Help

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Kelsie Moore
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KUER
Vicky Chavez and her two daughters who've been living at The First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City for the past three years. She took sanctuary there in 2018 when she was facing deportation.

Vicky Chavez continues to walk the halls with her two children inside the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City. Saturday marks her three year anniversary of living there.

Chavez came to the U.S. in 2014 as an undocumented immigrant. She was fleeing an abusive relationship and political unrest in her home country, Honduras. She was reunited with her family in 2014 after having not seen them for 27 years.

“Honduras is one of the most dangerous places for women and girls. I came here seeking safety. I came here seeking asylum and I came here to be with my family,” Chavez said in a press conference Tuesday.

Her initial request for asylum was denied in January 2018. Chavez had been waiting at the Salt Lake City International airport for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to call her about her asylum request when her lawyer called her to notify her that her request had been denied.

During the Trump administration in 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a precedential opinion in Matter of A-B- overruling a previous landmark decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals. The previous ruling said domestic violence survivors would be eligible for asylum protection.

Fearing for the safety of her two children and herself, Chavez sought sanctuary at the church.

In 2019, ICE stated its intent to fine various individuals in the sanctuary movement $500,000. These fines were later dropped but then reissued.

Now, Chavez and three other women face the possibility of fines of approximately $60,000.

“I don’t know what may happen tomorrow,” she said. “If I sleep, I sleep thinking that at any moment they can interrupt the tranquility of living in the shelter to arrest me. Knowing they have fined me for taking refuge and protecting the life of my daughters.”

Two advocacy groups, Free Migration Project and Austin Sanctuary Network, among other organizations, have filed a federal lawsuit in response to the fines brought by ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

They are calling on President Joe Biden to drop the fines brought against them and grant them freedom.

“Those of us who have been living inside of sanctuary church for two, three, four and five years. We have already suffered enough. We along with the members of Congress ask you President Biden to grant us freedom now,” Chavez said.

The Biden Administration has begun to reverse many of the former President Donald Trump administration immigration policies with executive orders.

Kendall Moriarty, an associate attorney at Perretta Law Office, said the Biden Administration has taken the first step in creating a “humanity” approach to immigration by proposing a language change.

She said this administration does not intend on using the term “alien” in the statute, and is altering the immigration code to “noncitizen.”

While the proposals Biden’s administration made are big, Moriarty said there’s no way to know what's going to actually happen.

“In terms of asylum cases that are kind of already in the United States there is a huge backlog right now within the court system,” she said. “Part of that is because of COVID[-19]. Part of that is also because President Trump's administration took out different tools that immigration judges could use to manage their dockets.”

However, one of Biden’s executive orders would allow immigrants to stay with family while they wait for their green cards. In the meantime, Chavez continues to wait for answers with her daughters.

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