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First Unitarian Church joins lawsuit over sanctuary fines

Screen shot of the First Unitarian Church news conference held March 24, 2021. Vicky Chavez is in the upper left. Rev. Tom Goldsmith center right and David Bennion top center. (screenshot)

SALT LAKE CITY — The church that for more than three years has offered sanctuary to an immigrant from Honduras and her children is joining a lawsuit against the federal government and its sanctuary fines. Vicky Chavez has been living in an upstairs classroom at First Unitarian with her two daughters, who are 9 years and 3-1/2 years old.

She was facing deportation back to Honduras when she came to the church.

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Chavez is one of four women who are plaintiffs in a suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, challenging the sanctuary fines imposed against Chavez and three other women also living in sanctuary churches in Ohio, Virginia and Texas. All were facing large fines — initially more than $400,000 but later reduced to just under $60,000.

Those fines were one reason First Unitarian Church announced today that it was also joining the suit as a plaintiff. 

“These fines are not only unconscionable but illegal,” said Rev. Tom Goldsmith. “As a faith community, we cannot remain passive.”

About the fines, Chavez told KSL Newsradio, “Hello — I don’t have $60,000 in the account or bank, I don’t have $60,000 under my bed, because this is crazy.”

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She also expressed gratitude t0 the church that has been her home.

“It was an act of faith for First Unitarian Church to offer sanctuary to me and my daughters, and an act of faith for me to accept,” she said.

Several immigrant advocacy groups are backing the lawsuit as well. David Bennion, executive director of the Free Migration Project, told a news conference Wednesday, “We thought the Biden administration would quickly drop these egregious civil fines. Yet here we are, over two months into the Biden presidency, and ICE is still pursuing these fines.”

Chavez and the other women are hoping the case will eventually lead to stays of their deportation orders and allow them and their children to remain in the United States. Until then, Vicky uses her time and talents to create crochet figures, including one of President Biden.

sanctuary fines

Vicky Chavez poses with one of her handmade dolls. Photo credit: Vicky Chavez