CITY OF SALT LAKE (AP) – After more than three years of living in a church in Salt Lake City to avoid deportation, Honduran immigrant Vicki Chavez came out on Thursday with tears in his eyes as church congregations and friends applauded the newly discovered your freedom.
Chavez and her two young daughters took refuge in the First Unitary Church in January 2018 after she said she ran away from a boyfriend in Honduras and sought asylum in the United States, but was refused.
Chavez entered the United States illegally in June 201
Chavez said on Monday he received a notification from immigration and customs law enforcement that he had received a so-called suspension stay, which limits the risk of deportation for one year.
“Vicki’s life is no longer held back,” the Rev. Tom Goldsmith, the church’s minister, told reporters. “She leaves this church, understanding English, a few hundred friends and the confidence to pursue her dreams.”
Chavez thanked his church community for helping her and her daughters be safe for the past 1168 days and said she plans to stay in Utah.
“I have no words to thank them for providing me with a safe home for more than three years,” Chavez said. “Today I can say that I am full of love and I am happy to have come here.”
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson had tears in her eyes when she greeted Chavez and called on citizens and elected leaders to have “more compassion” for members of their communities.
Chavez and her daughters were the first known immigrants to take refuge in Utah, according to local immigration advocates and the head of the American Civil Liberties Union.
She and her daughters slept in a converted Sunday school room and spent most of their time in another room with a TV, tripod and games.
Skylar Anderson, Chavez’s lawyer, said she was pleased with her client and her family, but called on elected congressional officials to prioritize changes to the country’s immigration system and facilitate the process for asylum seekers.
“There are millions of Vicki in this country – I’ve represented many of them,” Anderson said. “There are not enough churches to shelter all the cries in this country. This country must be this sanctuary. “
Alethea Smock, a spokeswoman for migration and customs enforcement, had no comment Thursday on the Chavez case.
In his first weeks in office, President Joe Biden signed several executive orders on immigration that repealed his predecessor’s policies, although several Republican members of Congress insisted on legal challenges.
Others who have left the shrine since Biden took office are Jose Chickas, a 55-year-old native of El Salvador who left a church in Durham, North Carolina, on Jan. 22.
Alex Garcia, a father of five from Honduras, left Mapplewood Church in Missouri in February. Edith Espinal, a native of Mexico, left a church in Ohio after more than three years.
Eppolito is a member of the Associated Press Corps / Report for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national non-profit program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on undisclosed issues.