A Honduran mother who sought sanctuary in a Utah church has been denied her most recent appeal for asylum. Vicky Chavez has been living at the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City since January with her two small children.
Vicky Chavez asked for asylum when she came to the U.S. in 2014, fleeing an abusive relationship and political unrest. Her initial request for asylum was denied in January.
Rather than comply with an immigration judge’s order and turn herself into U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) to be deported to Honduras, Chavez was offered refuge at the Unitarian church. Six month's later in July, she's still there.
"People believe that she is in sanctuary, that everything’s fine," said Amy Dominguez who works with the non-profit Unidad Inmigrante. "She is safe, however things are not fine and this is not normal.”
Since Chavez is still learning English, Dominguez has become her spokesperson. She said life at the church means Chavez’s six-year-old daughter hasn’t been able to attend school. It’s also been much harder to see family in the area, including Chavez’s parents.
The next step for Chavez is to make yet another appeal, this time to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the meantime, Dominguez has been hoping the government would grant Chavez a stay of removal. That means Chavez would be protected from deportation throughout the entire appeal process.
Although immigration officials have the power to grant a stay of removal, it’s become much less common under President Donald Trump’s administration. Just last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said domestic abuse — like Chavez endured — is not grounds for asylum.
Churches continue to be respected as an off-limits zone for ICE agents. So, Chavez feels safe, for now.
See the film from KUER's RadioWest following Chavez's life in sanctuary.