Her cry for church sanctuary from government pursuit, a historical protection going back to medieval times, prompted instant headlines. TV crews surrounded the church on her July 20 deportation deadline; the state and city’s political hierarchy gathered inside to support Ms. Chavarria as she clung to her marginal place in America.
“I was furious,” Mr. Formica said of the sanctuary display. “I stormed into the church, profane and boorish, worrying how I’d ever get my client out of there past what I thought were crazy radicals.”
But then he slowed down, surveyed the scene and had to rethink the meaning of sanctuary. “It was Birkenstock grandmas, local church leaders, the governor and congressional delegation,” he said. And impassioned citizens, including a jaded Trump supporter who said he had come because he was friends with undocumented immigrants in the restaurant business.
Mr. Formica warily approached one community organizer, Kica Matos, a local firebrand in life’s various causes all the way to death row appeals. “For me, it was like meeting an extraterrestrial,” said the buttoned-down lawyer. “But then,” he conceded, “I found she knew what she was doing.”
“I did a 180 on sanctuary right there,” Mr. Formica said. “I never thought in 20 years I’d ever see such an outpouring of support for one of my clients.” He thinks he overlooked early warnings when ICE agents he knew and trusted never dared return his phone calls as Ms. Chavarria’s deportation date approached.
His brush with sanctuary convinced him that a new regime is enforcing the Trump doctrine with a vengeance. “It’s ICE unchained, a rabid dog now, no limit in sight,” the lawyer summarized, sounding more sad than radicalized.
Powered by the church rally, Mr. Formica and others raced around to have Ms. Chavarria spared immediate deportation through an emergency stay from immigration court. She has left the church while her case is argued, but she is considered an “ICE fugitive” by the government, a higher-priority category for eventual deportation. Mr. Formica knows he must fight for her further and harder than ever. He tapped New Haven’s history as a sanctuary city by calling his friend Mike Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School. He pleaded for a corps of sharp students for fast help in drafting what will be a complicated legal case.
“In four days, they turned around what I needed,” Mr….