ICE Threatens Guatemalan Woman Who Sought Sanctuary In Church With $214,000 Fine

The potential fine is an example of the "psychological terror" ICE inflicts on migrants like Maria Chavalan Sut, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church's pastor says.

Federal authorities are threatening to fine a Guatemalan migrant more than $214,000 after she sought sanctuary in a Virginia church, the church’s reverend told HuffPost.

Maria Chavalan Sut received a mailed notice of “Intent to Fine” from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last Tuesday, according to Rev. Isaac Collins of Charlottesville’s Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. Chavalan Sut moved into a converted Sunday school classroom at Collins’ church in September after ICE ordered her to leave the country.

Collins believes Chavalan Sut is being fined for seeking sanctuary, per an email he sent to HuffPost.

“It’s an outrageous fear tactic, and just another example of the psychological terror that ICE inflicts on the migrant community in the US,” he said. “Our congregation has a front row seat to the harassment that ICE inflicts upon undocumented people, and we find it repulsive.”

Chavalan Sut is from Guatemala’s indigenous Kaqchikel community. She sought asylum in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Daily Progress, claiming that people seeking to steal her land set her home on fire and threatened to kill her.

Her lawyer, Alina Kilpatrick, said in October that ICE failed to put a date and time on Chavalan Sut’s notice to appear in court to plead asylum, which meant she missed her court date. A motion to reopen her immigration case is pending at the Arlington Immigration Court. HuffPost reached out to Kilpatrick for an update on the case but hadn’t received a reply by the time of publication.

Chavalan Sut sought refuge at Wesley Memorial in September after ICE issued her a deportation order. ICE officials generally avoid entering certain sensitive locations, such as places of worship, hospitals and schools. 

In December, the agency quietly started sending migrants who have evaded deportation orders notices of intent to fine them hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to The Washington Post. ICE claims it is legally allowed to impose civil fines of up to $799 per day on undocumented immigrants who haven’t followed deportation orders.

The agency is following an executive order President Donald Trump issued in 2017, calling for ICE to start collecting these civil penalties. The strategy is part of the president’s attempts to undermine sanctuary jurisdictions ― cities and counties with laws in place that limit how much local police can cooperate with ICE. Churches have been a crucial part of the sanctuary movement, offering to shelter migrants who have been given deportation orders.

Chavalan Sut’s legal team is planning to challenge the fine in court, Collins wrote in his email. “ICE has put a price of $799 a day on Maria’s safety,” he said. Her supporters claim that repatriation to Guatemala would mean her death.

Maria Chavalan Sut is an asylum seeker from Guatemala’s indigenous Kaqchikel community.
Maria Chavalan Sut is an asylum seeker from Guatemala’s indigenous Kaqchikel community.

Last September, Wesley Memorial didn’t have any formal policies in place about offering sanctuary to migrants. But the church moved quickly to accommodate Chavalan Sut after hearing about her impending deportation ― going from having zero discussions about sanctuary to hosting Maria in about 24 hours.

The last nine months have been “transformative” for Collins’ congregation, he said, adding that the community has rallied around Chavalan Sut and that other churches have reached out to talk about offering sanctuary to migrants as well.

“There is so much injustice perpetuated in the name of the American people that we never notice or see,” Collins said. “Being a part of Maria’s fight for freedom has opened our eyes to the callous way that the US government treats the most vulnerable people on earth.”



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