Mom taking refuge in church gets stay on deportation

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-27 04:58:18-04

A single mother of four who sought refuge in a New Haven, Connecticut church to avoid deportation will be allowed to stay with her family for now, authorities say. 

Nury Chavarria, who is originally from Guatemala and has been living in the United States for 24 years, took sanctuary in a Pentecostal church in a New Haven, Connecticut last Thursday.

A judge granted Chavarria a stay Wednesday afternoon and will reopen a review of her asylum application, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman Khaalid Walls said. 

The court-granted stay will remain in effect until the judge issues a final decision on her application.

Chavarria is thankful to her supporters and will be returning home to her children and family members, her representative, Kica Matos, said. 

"She's a free woman at least for the foreseeable future," Matos said.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, all Democrats, were among lawmakers who rallied around her in support, along with community activists and volunteers.

"Today, reason and compassion have prevailed. There was never a rational justification for Nury Chavarria to have been threatened with deportation and separated from her children, and I applaud this decision by ICE and the court to allow her to continue living and working in the United States with her family," Malloy said in a statement. 

"Nury's plight is the direct result of an immigration system that has lost all sense of humanity -- a betrayal of fundamental American values," Blumenthal said in a statement.

A clean record and a check-in gone awry

Chavarria first fled Guatemala in 1993 with her family and sought asylum in the United States, which was denied, according to her attorney, Glenn Formica.

In June, immigration officers told her she had to buy a plane ticket and leave the United States by July 20.

Chavarria has attended her regular ICE check-ins annually since 2011, according to Formica. She previously received multiple deferrals from ICE to allow her to stay in the United States, Murphy said.

While Chavarria was supposed to board a flight at Newark International Airport bound for Guatemala on Thursday, she instead fled to the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal church in New Haven from her home in Norwalk. In its statement, ICE said that its current policy "directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations" like places of worship.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations made deporting people with criminal records a priority, and the lawmakers say that Chavarria has no record.

"I have yet to find anything in this woman's background that indicates that she is a criminal," Malloy told reporters on Friday. "And a point of fact is that she showed up for all of the appointments that she was supposed to show up for."

Murphy and Blumenthal also noted that she contributed economically to the community and paid her taxes.

'I want her to stay because I love her so much'

Chavarria has four children and is their sole caretaker. Her eldest son, who is 21 years old, has cerebral palsy, according to Formica. Her youngest daughter, Hayley Gabriella Chavarria, is 9 years old, and she publicly appealed to President Trump not to separate her family.

"My mother, Nury Chavarria, is someone I love more than anyone in the world," her youngest daughter, Hayley, told reporters Thursday night outside of the church. "She's not a criminal, she has a positive attitude about everything. I want her to stay because I love her so much."

The church's pastor, Hector Otero, told reporters that he hopes his church's support highlights the significance of Chavarria's case.

"It's a humanitarian matter in which we cannot be excluded in helping the Chavarria family," Otero said in Spanish, with the help of translators. "Our church has decided to serve as sanctuary and I am thankful to all of those who have united in this effort, including Governor Dan Malloy. I think there is an opportunity for us to work to keep the family together."

Other community activists spoke on Chavarria's behalf Thursday night.

Jesus Morales Sanchez, an activist associated with Unidad Latina en Acción and the Connecticut Immigrants Rights Alliance, said his groups stood in support of Chavarria, calling her "someone who is resilient, hardworking, and someone who embodies what a lot of immigrants pursue in this country: The American Dream."

Others face similar fate

Chavarria's deportation case is one of several that have captured the attention of activists and lawmakers across the United States, after President Donald Trump issued an executive order earlier this year that expanded the powers of immigration officers.

The order laid out a series of categories of undocumented immigrants that immigration law enforcement officials should prioritize for removing from the country, a reaction to what was criticized by the right as lax enforcement of immigration law by former President Barack Obama.

But experts say the descriptions include virtually every person in the country illegally and give broad latitude to individual immigration officers to decide who should be detained for deportation.

Roberto Beristain, an Indiana restaurant owner, was deported to Mexico in April after living in the United States for nearly 20 years. Like Chavarria, his attorney says that he attended all necessary check-ins.

Francisca Lino went to her twice-annual ICE check-in in Chicago earlier this year and told relieved family outside the office that she was set for at least another year. Five minutes later, though, Lino was told there had been a mistake and that she would have to depart the United States in 28 days.

"There were changes," Lino said, her face grim. She was originally scheduled to be deported on July 11, but she is now scheduled to check in with ICE in August.

Chavarria spoke on Friday to CNN affiliate WTNH, telling them that her connection to her children was a main reason why she wanted to stay in the United States.

"If I left my country, I wouldn't have had the same opportunities to see my daughter and my other kids," I do everything for my kids, for see them, for be with them," she said.

Malloy, Blumenthal and Murphy pledged that they would continue to support Chavarria's legal team and their efforts.

"ICE needs to step back and think about a path forward, there is a better way," Murphy said.