Charlottesville woman who took refuge from ICE in church faces huge fine

Maria Chavalan Sut, who took refuge in Charlottesville to avoid being deported, has been living at the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church for almost a year. (Source: WCAV/Gray News)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV/Gray News) - Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ramping up the pressure on undocumented people, trying to get them to leave the United States, including those living in sanctuary, by fining them thousands of dollars, WCAV reported.

That includes Guatemalan Maria Chavalan Sut, who took refuge in Charlottesville to avoid being deported. She has been living at the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church for almost a year.

The church said she received a mailed notice from ICE that she owes a six-figure fine for remaining in the U.S.

She faces a $214,132 penalty, the Daily Progress reported.

Chavalan Sut is a member of an indigenous community in Guatemala that faces persecution, WCAV previously reported. An educator, she came to the U.S. seeking asylum and was allowed to enter while awaiting a hearing.

Sut is from an indigenous town, Keqchikel, where she witnessed violence and genocide during the Guatemala Civil War, including seeing her uncles and cousins buried alive.

"I feel fortunate because a lot of people my age died," she said.

Immigration lawyer Sofia Gregg with the Legal Aid Justice Center, who is not affiliated with Sut's case, said it just another way to try to intimidate the migrants.

"This does seem like another way to terrorize this community. Immigrants are individually becoming more and more afraid that here is another way in which to get them out of that sanctuary network whether that's through legal action, making them feel maybe it's time to self-deport," she said.

According to published reports, ICE can fine those living in the U.S. illegally up to $799 a day.

However, immigration officers cannot enter a church, hospital or school serving as a sanctuary site.

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