‘We’re prepared to do this 24/7’: Volunteers help mother seeking sanctuary from deportation in Utah church

Posted at 9:52 PM, Jan 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-01 08:42:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's a deportation case catching attention and tugging at hearts all across the nation. An immigrant mother living in Utah is seeking sanctuary at a church in Salt Lake City.

“She really is scared she might be detained or taken away from her kids,” said Fabiola Madrigal with Unidad Inmigrante.

She says hiding in the church is the only option she has after she exhausted all legal ways and means.

“She's gotten time to spend with her little girls, and she's just trying to process the decision she's just made,” Madrigal said.

Vicky Chavez announced that difficult decision Tuesday night. Instead of boarding her deportation flight, she sought sanctuary at the first Unitarian church. Vicky says it's go back to Honduras and be beaten and likely killed, or hide away in a church with her young daughters.

“It really is scary, hopefully [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will see she is trying to protect her family,” Madrigal said.

There are no laws preventing federal agents from storming this church, but a policy put into place in 2011 protects sensitive locations. Because of that, legal experts don't believe agents will take the mother away from her children.

“There would be outcry across the nation; it's one of the sacred places we have left, and you're going to come in and lack respect in this place?" said Jonathan Shaw, an Immigration Attorney.

But it could happen.

“We've seen Trump administration, they randomly change these memos and make decision and take action,” Shaw said.

Volunteers say if ICE does take action: “We are prepared to do this 24/7. We’ve recruited volunteers we've trained volunteers,” said Joan Gregory, Volunteer Director and Coordinator of Sanctuary Effort.

While they pray that moment never comes, they'll continue watching over Vicky and her girls.

“It's an honor and a privilege,” Gregory said.

Even though Vicky is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the First Unitarian Church opened their doors without hesitation.

“I think that is about helping our brothers and sisters, reaching a hand across even if that is reaching across faiths,” Madrigal said.

A statement released on behalf of the LDS Church states:

"All Church members, regardless of immigration status, are welcome to participate in our worship services and to serve in the Church. Likewise, the Church authorizes bishops to provide life-sustaining assistance to Church members without regard to immigration status. Local Church leaders may also refer members with immigration needs to capable legal counsel. In recent years, the Church has partnered with community and legal organizations to provide clinics where individuals can receive help, including with immigration questions and processes. The Church does not seek to interfere with or participate in the enforcement of immigration laws, instead encouraging individual members to pursue all legal means to resolve their immigration status."

Now Vicky is confined within these walls, not knowing how long she'll be here.

“We're in it for the long haul," Madrigal said. "We're expecting the worst."

FOX 13 is told Vicky is emotionally exhausted but is expected to talk to the media in a day or two. Now it’s a waiting game to see if her case will be reopened.