Second immigrant facing deportation claiming sanctuary in Va. church

A 44-year-old Guatemalan woman who says she is facing imminent deportation by ICE has taken refuge in a Virginia church, Wesley Memorial UMC in Charlottesville.

The woman, María Chavalan Sut, is the second immigrant to publicly claim sanctuary in a Virginia house of worship, taking advantage of an ICE policy of not conducting raids or enforcement activity in “sensitive locations.”

Sut says she came to the United States seeking asylum as a persecuted minority but was never given a hearing date, according to a statement distributed by activists supporting her.

“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,” she said in the statement. “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.”

The Rev. Isaac Collins described the decisions to take Sut in as an act of faith, not politics.

“In Christ, there is no such thing as citizenship, borders or political parties. Christians have been offering sanctuary for thousands of years,” he said in the statement. “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.'”

Sut is one of more than 30 immigrants nationwide currently being shielded from deportation by religious institutions, according to Church World Service.

In Richmond, Abbie Arevalo-Herrera has been living in a classroom in the basement of the First Unitarian Universalist Church Of Richmond since June.

As the Mercury’s in-depth profile published last month showed, the arrangement has offered Arevalo-Herrera a reprieve, but she and church leaders have also struggled with logistical and interpersonal challenges.