Woman living in sanctuary inside a Salt Lake City church allowed to leave

Apr 15, 2021, 6:57 PM
(Vicky Chavez at the doors of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City after announcing she was...
(Vicky Chavez at the doors of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City after announcing she was granted a stay of removal. Photo: Paul Nelson)
(Vicky Chavez at the doors of the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City after announcing she was granted a stay of removal. Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – Vicky Chavez, the woman who spent more than three years in a sanctuary inside a Salt Lake City Church, is finally allowed to leave. The federal government is granting her a temporary stay of removal, and she took her first steps of freedom outside of the church grounds.

Chavez fled an abusive relationship in Honduras and sought asylum in Utah. However, she claimed sanctuary in the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City when she learned she could be deported back to Honduras. Since then, she and her two daughters have lived inside the church for 1,168 days.

Chavez said, “We have been waiting for this day for more than 39 months.”

She said when her attorney first told her she was granted a one-year stay by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she thought it was a joke. Chavez calls the stay a miracle that she didn’t expect, but she never really lost hope that it would happen.

“This is my community, Salt Lake City, and I’m going to stay here forever,” she said.

(Vicky Chavez leaving the church for a private celebration. Photo: Paul Nelson)

After a press conference, Chavez rang the bells of the chapel, then walked outside and got into a car to attend a private celebration with family and friends. She said her kids made a lot of plans while they were living in the sanctuary.

“My kids are very happy because we’re going to go to Disneyland. They’re ready to share more time with their family and my oldest girl is happy because she’s going to have more friends, for sure,” she said.

However, Chavez is joining the fight against what she calls a broken immigration system. 

She said, “This is the beginning of a big battle, and I’m going to continue to fight for all the people who need me.”

Her attorney, Skyler Anderson, says decisions made by former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions put Chavez’s asylum status in jeopardy.

“They took away asylum protections for victims of domestic violence living in countries where it’s just dismissed as a ‘family matter,’” Anderson said.  “That was just unnecessarily cruel and ridiculous.”

Chavez is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit against ICE, saying the agency retaliated against sanctuary leaders by placing unreasonable fines against them.

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Woman living in sanctuary inside a Salt Lake City church allowed to leave