CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Inside the walls of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Maria Chavalan Sut found a home.
She’s a refugee seeking asylum from Guatemala and is staying at the church in Charlottesville. Now, she can go outside, because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) just gave her a one-year-long Stay of Removal.
“Muy feliz,” Chavalan said in an interview. That translates to “very happy.”
She continued, through a translator: “It was wonderful news. It was news about my liberation.”
Chavalan has lived at the church for 925 days - that’s since 2018 - to avoid deportation. She says the church’s embrace is a story of generosity.
“They were welcoming and it represents acceptance of humanity,” she said through the translator. “I am an indigenous woman and they accepted me as I am.”
Rosina Snow, who is the church’s director of Christian discipleship, says they were just doing what Jesus, and the Bible, taught them.
“It’s not so much that we’re patting ourselves on the back, we’re so great,” Snow said. “This feels like the very least that we can do in a world as broken and with as much suffering as there is.”
Snow is encouraging others to follow along and show holy love, dignity, and respect to everyone.
“It’s a gift and a blessing to be able to share in that love and to live in that way,” she said.
The stay isn’t the end of Chavalan’s legal battle, but it does give her an extra year to fight her deportation order. The church said in a press release that the order was issued after she “did not attend a required July 2017 Immigration Court hearing whose date and time she never received notice of.”
“This is a victory,” she said through her interpreter. “It’s like a small vaccine for justice and we need more doses for justice.”
She says every church should follow the example of Wesley Memorial, which opened their doors for her, accepted her, and even offered their sacrament.
Chavalan’s lawyer, Alina Kilpatrick said in a statement: “ICE did the right thing granting this Stay. I have faith that President Biden will fix our broken immigration system, including how immigrants receive notice of their court dates. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the legal duty to inform noncitizens of the date and time of their court hearings. Hopefully, the new administration will provide ICE/DHS with the resources they need to follow the law.”