María Chavalán Sut

EN – María Chavalán Sut is an indigenous Mayan Kaqchikel woman from Guatemala who survived horrible atrocities as a child during her country’s civil war during which more than 200,000 were massacred, kidnapped, or disappeared (their whereabouts are still unknown even now in 2022). After the war, María went to school and became a teacher. When María refused to hand over her house , it was set on fire and burned to the ground in the early hours of the morning with the family still inside. By the grace of God, Maria and her family escaped.

At that point María fled to the United States to seek asylum. At the U.S. border, she was detained for a month and suffered physical and mental ill-treatment and abuse.

When she was released in January 2017, María was told to report to the ICE office closest to her home in Virginia. There she was instructed to return to the ICE office in January 2018. During 2017-2018, she checked with ICE to ask if a court date had been set, but was repeatedly told that they were not aware of a court date for her. When she returned to ICE in January 2018, she was detained and informed that she was being held because she was absent from her court date. But María had never been informed of her court date.

ICE placed María on an intensive supervision (ISAP) and monitoring (EMP) program which resulted in her being watched 24/7 by a monitor that was locked around her ankle and with weekly visits to her home by ICE officers. The ankle monitor would vibrate at any time of the day or night interrupting daily activities and sleep, leading to physical and mental harm. Maria still suffers from the physical and neurological damage that monitor caused to her ankle, foot, and toes. And with each visit from ICE, came the fear of being detained or deported.

Fearing for her life and deciding to once again confirm her faith in God, María took sanctuary in September 2018 at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia where she received the support of the church community. Throughout the Trump Administration, the COVID-19 pandemic, and to this day, the church has been there for María. Yet, so was the threat and the fear that ICE would detain and deport her.

In 2019, ICE initially fined María $214,132 and later $59,925 for remaining in sanctuary. The fines brought further pain, suffering and trauma on top of everything María had already endured. María finally received official notification on April 10, 2022 that those fines were rescinded, but the impact of those fines remains.

In February 2021, María received a Stay of Removal. In February 2022, her Stay of Removal was renewed for one year but without a work permit. Without a job, María still lives at the church with no way to earn enough money for rent, food, medical care, or transportation. As an indigenous person, she is accustomed to working hard and supporting herself through her daily work. Her being forced to rely solely on the efforts of others is contrary to her native culture and her religious beliefs.

Today, María feels that she is in limbo with her life hanging in the balance. Yet she still has faith in God. Her case is in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. She continues to live in the church, with the hope that deferred action, a work permit, a positive outcome in her case, and that relief from the constant pain and suffering she has endured will be possible. Maria’s advocacy for indigenous peoples is steadfast. She is grateful to Mother Earth who feeds us all without prejudice and gives us all life.

ES – María es una mujer indígena maya de Guatemala que sobrevivió a horribles atrocidades durante la guerra civil de su país. Después de la guerra, María fue a la escuela y se convirtió en maestra. María se negó a entregar su casa, por lo que la incendiaron y la quemaron hasta los cimientos. María huyó a Estados Unidos en busca de asilo, pero nunca se le informó de su fecha de audiencia. Temiendo por su vida, se refugió en la Iglesia Metodista Unida Wesley Memorial en Charlottesville, Virginia. ICE multó a María por la cantidad de $59,925 por permanecer en santuario. Cuando pueda salir del santuario, María espera presentar su caso de asilo y continuar abogando por los pueblos indígenas.

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