Connecticut Delegation Visits Immigrant Mother Taking Sanctuary In New Haven Church

Three members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation met on Friday with the Guatemalan mother of four who sought sanctuary from deportation in a New Haven church.

Nury Chavarria was supposed to be sent back to Guatemala Thursday. She's lived in the U.S. for 24 years, and did not leave the country following several deportation orders in the late 1990s.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said Immigration and Customs Enforcement had allowed Chavarria to stay on humanitarian grounds that she needs to care for her U.S.-born children. Murphy said her circumstances haven’t changed, but ICE’s decision has, under the new administration.

“I'm a senator, and I don't encourage people to break the laws,” Murphy said. “But I'm a dad and a husband and a human being, and I cannot see the logic in the decision that ICE has made.”

Murphy said he and other elected officials plan to work with ICE to figure out a solution for Chavarria’s family.

Senator Richard Blumenthal said that in order to avoid other cases like Chavarria’s, Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Connecticut's Third District Representative Rosa DeLauro said she wants to see a more consistent immigration policy from the Trump administration.

“Our hope is that there will be a consistent policy -- that we are not going to move to deport people who have been playing by the rules, as I have said. Otherwise, you may continue to see this happen again,” DeLauro said.

ICE officials said in a statement that they consider Chavarria an ICE fugitive for failing to return to Guatemala this week. ICE officials also said that its current policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, and places of worship.

Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Church in New Haven, Connecticut.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Thomas Scott-Railton, a law student and member of the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- passed by Congress with bipartisan support in the early 1990s -- would shield the church for its actions.  Listen to him describe why.

“That act sets a very high bar for the government to prosecute a religious group for exercising their beliefs,” he said. “And what these sanctuary churches are doing is exercising their religious charity. These churches are saying that when families in need come to their doors, they won’t turn them away.”