Undocumented LDS mom remains sheltered at Unitarian Church
(KUTV)- Vicky Chavez, an LDS mother of two young girls, remains sheltered at a Unitarian Church Wednesday night, after she sought sanctuary in an effort to avoid deportation to Honduras.
Reverend Monica Dobbins, of The First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake, said they would shelter Chavez and her daughters for as long as possible until she resolves her immigration case.
In the meantime, Chavez is choosing not to leave the premises, staying in a private residence within the church campus.
Dobbins said the church is offering her sanctuary, counting on an immigration policy, that has made churches off-limits to immigration officers.
“I do feel confident that they will continue to honor that understanding,” Dobbins said.
That agreement, was outlined in a 2011 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that said immigration officers would not enter “sensitive locations” to make arrests. Those locations included schools and churches and hospitals.
Aaron Tarin, a Utah immigration attorney not involved in Chavez’ case, said the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake is not the first to offer sanctuary to an undocumented person. This has happened in other churches across the country.
Tarin said that during the Trump administration, the policy on “sensitive locations” is still in place, but he said ICE has the authority to do whatever it wants.
“I’ve had clients picked up at court, walking out of a doctor’s office or hospital,” he said.
Chavez, who has been in the U.S. for four years, said she filed a petition for asylum in the U.S. in hopes of staying away from Honduras where violence and death are a threat to people who live there.
The government denied her request to stay while her petition was considered.
On Tuesday night she was supposed to board a plane and leave for Honduras. As she said goodbye to her relatives, she made the last-minute decision to seek sanctuary at the church.
Dobbins said the hope is that immigration officials will re-consider. She wants Chavez and her little girls to exhaust all their legal options before they are forced to return to a violent place.
Eric Hawkins, Spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, of which Chavez is a member issued this statement in response to our request in regard to the Church’s position on Sanctuary for undocumented immigrants:
All Church members, regardless of immigration status, are welcome to participate in our worship services and to serve in the Church. Likewise, the Church authorizes bishops to provide life-sustaining assistance to Church members without regard to immigration status. Local Church leaders may also refer members with immigration needs to capable legal counsel. In recent years, the Church has partnered with community and legal organizations to provide clinics where individuals can receive help, including with immigration questions and processes. The Church does not seek to interfere with or participate in the enforcement of immigration laws, instead encouraging individual members to pursue all legal means to resolve their immigration status.
Jean Hill, Director of Government Relations for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said, the Catholic Church will also continue to help undocumented immigrants with food, housing and other basic needs.
“We will provide all of the assistance we can within the bounds of the law, ” she said.
The Catholic Diocese has long been a proponent of reforming immigration laws to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
“Our immigration system is utterly broken and in desperate need of an overhaul. We are exploiting people for their labor without providing rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship,” she said.