Immigration and immigrant rights have been hot topics under the Trump administration. New policies for assessing whether or not people seeking asylum are eligible to require officers to turn away asylum-seekers who claim fear of gang or domestic violence.
Vicky Chavez is an asylum-seeker in Utah caught in the fray of old and new asylum policies. Chavez entered the United States in 2014 and immediately turned herself into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. She was released to pursue asylum. In January of this year, she was denied asylum and told to self-deport. Instead of self-deporting, Chavez took sanctuary at the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake while she waited for an appeal to reopen her asylum case.
This past Monday after six months living in sanctuary, Chavez’s appeal was denied. Now, Chavez seeks an appeal at a higher court. Chavez is an engineer and mother of two daughters. She is from Honduras and came to the United States because she feared for the safety of herself and her family.
"The reason why we fled in the first place is because I had a violent and abusive ex-partner that sent my daughter and I death threats," Chavez said through an interpreter from Unidad Immigrante, a non-profit group that supports immigrants. "To go back to Honduras, I don’t even know where I would stay. I don’t know where I would go."
Chavez said since entering the United States she has obeyed all laws and cooperated with ICE. That is until she went to the airport to head back to Honduras and realized she couldn’t go through with it.
"I wanted to follow the ICE orders," Chavez said. "However to auto-deport was to put my family at risk."
While living in sanctuary, Chavez is reliant on other people to obtain things she needs.
"We depend on other people to bring us our groceries," she said. "If there’s anything that my daughters need, we depend on other people to bring them to us here at the church. My eldest daughter has her classes here and we do our very best to make sure that their lives are as normal as they could be. My youngest daughter, who’s six months, has spent half of her life here in this church. She just recently started walking and she took her first steps here in sanctuary."
ICE has had a policy that they don’t make arrests at so-called “sensitive locations,” such as schools and churches. However, recently ICE has made arrests near these locations causing concern for migrants and asylum-seekers who have entered the United States without legal permission. And so, Chavez stays inside the church at all times.
Chavez said her family—including parents and cousins—are in the United States and so she has nothing to return to in Honduras.
Looking forward, Chavez hopes to receive a stay of removal so she and her daughters can resume normal life while her appeal is processed and ultimately hopes to be granted asylum.
"I believe something that would give me great happiness would be for my daughter to return to her normal school and her normal classes," Chavez said. "Secondly, I’d really like to further in my career and re-enter university here to advance. And of course, I’d like to continue the fight for other mothers that are facing similar situations as myself—victims of domestic abuse that are seeking asylum. And continue to be the voice for others and continue the fight to make sure that we are safe and protected in this country."
Chavez’s appeal to reopen her case is through the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Dominguez said it could take up to two years to hear a decision from the court.