SALT LAKE CITY — A Trump-era policy that authorized U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to issue thousands of dollars in fines to immigrants who sought sanctuary in this country has now ended, according to an announcement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“Knowing that we have won one more victory against the previous government makes us continue with the hope of having the future for which we are fighting. . . . Thank you Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson for making a compassionate decision on the side of justice,” said sanctuary leader Vicky Chavez, who has taken sanctuary at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City.
In the summer of 2019, ICE targeted high-profile activists in sanctuary—all of whom fled persecution in their countries of origin—with notices stating its intent to seek up to $500,000 in fines from each of them. These notices were abruptly withdrawn, only to be re-issued months later in 2020 when the activists started attacking what they saw were injustices in the country's immigration policies.
Today, each woman faces the possibility of fines of approximately $60,000. In announcing an end to the civil fines policy, DHS stated that “ICE intends to work with the Department of Treasury to cancel the existing debts of those who had been fined.”
The sanctuary movement in the U.S. began in the 1980s; houses of worship across the country have offered sanctuary to those who otherwise would be deported and face oppression or abuse in their home countries.
“The sanctuary movement has always taken the shape of conscience,” said Rev. Tom Goldsmith, senior minister of First Unitarian Church, where Ms. Chavez found refuge for three years. “ Houses of worship shelter the stranger as they have been admonished to do by their various faith traditions. The protection of human rights must reign foremost in every civil society if it wants to merit the word ‘civil.’”
Ms. Chavez is part of the National Sanctuary Collective, which seeks to find solutions to the issues facing those living in sanctuary, including a stay of removal so that they can continue working on their legal cases and find more permanent protections to those seeking asylum.
“As mothers of faith, we will continue fighting to keep our families united until we can leave the shadows, and have peace and tranquility with our families without fear of being intimidated or persecuted,” said Edith Espinal, who had taken sanctuary at the Columbus Mennonite Church of Columbus, Ohio.