HARTFORD, Conn. – U.S. immigration officials said Friday they consider a woman trying to avoid deportation by seeking sanctuary in a Connecticut church to be a fugitive, but acknowledge they have a policy that restricts them from entering a house of worship except in extraordinary circumstances.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is among those showing support for Nury Chavarria, of Norwalk. The Democrat visited her Thursday night after she took refuge inside the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal church in New Haven.
Malloy said the attempt to deport the housekeeper and mother of four shows President Donald Trump's administration is not being truthful when it says its immigration policies are focused on "the bad guys."
"I am here to say this individual case is a wrong, but I am also very concerned that the greater wrong is when the American people are lied to about what their government is doing," he told reporters after leaving the church. "If everything I have learned so far about this particular case bears up then we are being lied to about this case and apparently other cases, as well."
Chavarria, who is from Guatemala, has lived in the U.S. for 24 years. Her four children, who range in age from 9 to 21, are U.S. citizens.
Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an email Friday that Chavarria was allowed to voluntarily depart by a federal immigration judge in 1998, but failed to comply. He said a final order of removal was issued in 1999. In 2010, the agency deferred her removal for one year on humanitarian grounds, he said.
Chavarria's supporters said she has gone to ICE and received a stay every year since then, until June, when she was ordered to get on a plane to Guatemala by Thursday.
"Since she did not depart as instructed, she is currently an ICE fugitive," said Walls.
It is not clear how long Chavarria intends to remain in the church.
Walls said ICE policy is to avoid conducting enforcement activities at churches "unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances."
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, asked federal immigration authorities for a stay of deportation on humanitarian grounds, but their request was denied.
Both said Friday they would continue to fight on her behalf. They said she has a compelling humanitarian argument because her 21-year-old son suffers from cerebral palsy. They said ICE officials should also take another look at why she was denied asylum when her father and brother's requests were granted.
"The policy from the Trump administration is inhumane," Murphy said.
Chavarria's 9-year-old daughter Haley told reporters outside the church that she is happy to get to spend more time with her mother, but also sad because she knows it is temporary.
"She is not a criminal and has a positive attitude about everything," Haley said. "I want her to stay. I love her so much. My message to President Trump is, 'Don't separate my family.'"