A Honduran immigrant woman and her two daughters, who spent three years trapped in a Utah church sanctuary while fearing deportation, stepped outside confidently Thursday.
Vicky Chavez walked proudly out of First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City under a banner that read celebrate “FREEDOM.”Vicky Chavez celebrates Thursday as she steps outside First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City for the first time in 1,168 days, as church congregants cheered.
“We have been waiting for this day for more than 39 months, and I’m here sharing with everybody that I’m free right now and I can’t believe it,” she told reporters, including local Fox affiliate KSTU.
Chavez and her young daughters entered the church in January 2018, they came to the U.S. in June 2014, seeking asylum from Chavez’s abusive boyfriend. But her case was rejected, with a final deportation appeal failing in January 2018.
Then, after she was given a plane ticket to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the church offered Chavez and her daughters sanctuary, the Associated Press reported. She stayed there for the next 1,168 days.Vicky Chavez, right, receives a hug and takes a photo outside the church.
Chavez and her kids slept in a converted Sunday school room and spent most of their time in a nearby room with a television and games.
“I’m leaving the room that I’ve heard myself crying in for many nights, the room where my daughters have spent hours playing, since they could not go out to have fun in a park,” she said, according to local CBS affiliate KUTV. “Today, I leave the room.”
Chavez’s departure came after Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a one year stay of removal, the AP reported. Local and church leaders, along with Chavez’s lawyers, criticized U.S. immigration policy.
“There are millions of Vickys in this country — I’ve represented many of them,” attorney Skylar Anderson said. “There aren’t enough churches to give sanctuary to all the Vickys of this country. This country needs to be that sanctuary.”
Chavez said she plans to stay in Utah, where several other family members live, according to KSTU. It’s estimated that around 35 people are currently in sanctuary at churches around the U.S, a couple in Philadelphia stepped outside in December after 843 days.