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

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The following press release was sent to It’s Going Down, and details the ongoing fight of María Chavalan Sut to seek sanctuary and resist her deportation.

CHARLOTTESVILLE—María Chavalan Sut, a 44-year-old woman living in Virginia, announces 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’s attorney Alina Kilpatrick, support team, and church and community representatives are holding a Press Conference today, Monday, October 8th, at 2:30 PM EST at the church, which is located at 1901 Thomson Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903. Doors open at 2:00pm.

“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

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.

#HandsOffMaria press conference with local Charlottesville faith leaders and community organizations.

Posted by Hands Off Maria on Monday, October 8, 2018

María has become accustomed to running for her life. As a small child she witnessed first- hand the violence of the long-running Guatemalan Civil War and genocide (1960-1996) when her village was burned as part of an ethnic attack on the Kaqchikel people. Her uncles and cousins were buried alive. Throughout her life,  María has felt the constant weight of persecution, marginalization, and poverty that comes with belonging to a small, persecuted ethnic group. Despite all the hardship, María went to school, and used what she learned to help others. She became an educator herself, teaching math to teenagers who did not have the benefit of school as children. In an effort to keep her native language alive, she worked at a self-publishing company in Guatemala City where she produced and distributed works in her native Kaqchikel language. Resilience and strength are two things María has shown throughout her life in abundance.

María will run no more. 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.

“Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church is proud to offer sanctuary to María, and we consider her a member of our faith community. We join in her cry for justice. We implore any and all necessary authorities to intervene so that María can be free! We do this because María is a child of God, imbued with dignity by her Creator. Offering sanctuary to her is not a political act; it is an act of faith. In Christ, there is no such thing as citizenship, borders, or political parties. Christians have been offering Sanctuary for thousands of years. As United Methodists, our social principles “urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.” We are here and will be here for María until she is free.” —  Rev. Isaac Collins, Wesley Memorial UMC.

Today María is facing imminent deportation back to the violence she knows all too well. In 2014 a group affiliated with gentrifiers threatened María with severe consequences if she did not sell her land.  When she refused, they made good on their promise. María remembers the smell of smoke when the group set fire to her home while her entire family was inside. The persecutors who terrorized María and her family believe that indigenous people do not have  basic human rights. This is what the US government is trying to send her back to.

Inside a church built on indigenous land, in a community all too familiar with racial violence, María is reclaiming her dignity and humanity. And the community that is rushing to support her (including numerous community and faith-based groups) is well-prepared, having organized together against August 11-12, 2017 and other racist attacks.

“This community has welcomed me with love that I never expected. I feel so thankful to be united with all of the folks involved in Sanctuary here in Charlottesville.” —  María

María will be sharing information about her case and campaign through Facebook and later other social media platforms: www.facebook.com/handsoffmaria

 


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