After over three years living in a Salt Lake City church to avoid being deported, Honduran immigrant Vicky Chavez stepped outside Thursday with tears in her eyes as church congregants and friends cheered, celebrating her newfound freedom, the AP reports. Chavez and her two young daughters took sanctuary in First Unitarian Church in January 2018 after she said she fled an abusive boyfriend in Honduras and sought asylum in the United States but was denied. Chavez entered the United States illegally in June 2014 and was ordered deported by a federal immigration judge in December 2016. After exhausting her appeals in January 2018, Chavez had a plane ticket home to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. She instead accepted an offer of sanctuary from the church.
Chavez said she received a notice from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday that she had been granted a so-called a stay of removal, which limits her risk of being deported for a year. “Vicky’s life is no longer on hold,” Rev. Tom Goldsmith, the church's minister, told reporters. “She leaves this church with a full grasp of the English language, a couple of hundred friends and the confidence to pursue her dreams." Chavez thanked her community in the church for helping keep her and her daughters safe over the past 1,168 days and said she plans to remain in Utah. Chavez and her daughters were the first known immigrants to take sanctuary in Utah, according to local immigration advocates and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She and her daughters slept in a converted Sunday school room and spent most of their time in another room with a TV, an easel, and games.
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