More than a dozen people were on their feet Wednesday, welcoming Rosa Gutiérrez into the sanctuary of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church.
“Our primary role and obligation is to Rosa,” explained senior minister at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi.
Gutiérrez escaped her native El Salvador in 2005. She says she received threats of violence from a group of people, and fled for the United States.
“I came because I fear for my life,” said Gutiérrez.
She began a new life in Fredericksburg, Virginia with her three American-born children, and found work in a restaurant.
She says she checked in monthly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement while seeking political asylum, but in 2017, they required her to wear an ankle monitor and eventually ordered her to return home, closing her case.
Gutiérrez bought an airline ticket, but on Monday decided against leaving and is now looking into re-opening her asylum case.
“My case is closed because of the deportation order. So to re-open the case and to see what the judge decides- whether I can stay or not,” Gutiérrez said.
Gutiérrez is currently avoiding deportation and taking sanctuary within church. In 2017 the church voted to become a physical sanctuary congregation.
Gutiérrez is the first immigrant they have housed. Staff has tidied up a room for her, and she spends most of her day helping around the church.
“We are able to be there with Rosa, and for Rosa, and supporting her so she is able to make this her home,” said Janamanchi.
Her attorney, Hector Perez-Casillas, says their legal argument for re-opening the case for asylum is centered on evidence that Gutiérrez’s family members have been killed back in El Salvador, creating a big threat for her own safety.
Perez-Casillas her case will also highlight that her youngest son, who has Down syndrome, could not properly supported for his condition in El Salvador.
“She has three children born here in the country, one of which is extremely disabled with Down syndrome, and so she presents an extra vulnerability. Can you imagine how they’ll look at her when they see her return to El Salvador with that child?”
Gutiérrez’s attorney has filed a motion for her stay and a motion to re-open her case is pending.