NEW HAVEN, Connecticut — In what some lawmakers are calling a “morally repugnant” incident and a “humanitarian nightmare,” a single mother of four who has been living in the United States for 24 years is now seeking refuge in a New Haven, Connecticut church in an attempt to avoid deportation.
Nury Chavarria, a Guatemala native, and her four children must wait as her legal team attempts to secure some kind of relief for her. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, all Democrats, have rallied around her in support, along with community activists and volunteers.
“I want the President of the United States to come here and meet her,” Murphy said in a news conference Friday afternoon outside Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal church, where he and Blumenthal met with Chavarria Friday afternoon. “This is not right. This is not what this country is about.”
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement to CNN that Chavarria did not adhere to a voluntary deportation issued by a federal judge in 1998. In 2010, the agency said that it deferred her removal one year on humanitarian grounds.
“As a current exercise of discretion and after an exhaustive review of her case,” the statement said, “the agency had allowed her to remain free from custody while finalizing her timely departure plans.”
“Since she did not depart as instructed, she is currently an ICE fugitive,” the statement added.
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, 24 years after she arrived, immigration officers told her she had to buy a plane ticket and leave the United States by July 20.
Chavarria attended her regular ICE check ins annually since 2011, according to Formica. According to Murphy, she had previously received multiple deferrals by ICE to allow her to stay in the United States.
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.
While both the Obama and Trump administrations have said that deporting criminals is a priority, lawmakers say that there has been no sign of a criminal record in Chavarria’s past.
“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.
“Because of the election last November, all of that changed for her,” Murphy said. “She was a marked woman.”
‘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.
But Chavarria’s fate is still to be determined.
Kica Matos, who represents Chavarria, said that she is in much better spirits than on Thursday and is overwhelmed by the support she has received.
“She feels really uplifted by all of these people who are coming forward to fight on her behalf,” Matos said.
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 (sic) see them, for be (sic) 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.