‘Now I’m going home’: Irida Kakhtiranova, supporters celebrate immigrant’s exit from church sanctuary

  • Irida Kakhtiranova gives Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz an elbow bump and thanks him for his support during her time in sanctuary during a press conference Thursday to announce that her asylum case has been reopened, allowing her to apply for residency. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Irida Kakhtiranova thanks friends in the crowd gathered outside the Unitarian Society in Northampton, Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Irida Kakhtiranova smiles during a press conference announcing that her case has been opened allowing her to apply for residency. Since April 6, 2018, Kakhtiranova has been in sanctuary at the Unitarian Society in Northampton. Here she was describing how excited she was to go home and spend her anniversary with her husband and family. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Irida Kakhtiranova, left, raises her fist in celebration while the Rev. Janet Bush speaks Thursday in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton, where Kakhtiranova has spent her time in sanctuary since April 6, 2018. Kakhtiranova’s asylum case has been reopened, allowing her to apply for residency. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/1/2021 7:43:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Irida Kakhtiranova said she felt scared, exhausted and hopeless when she came to the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence in April 2018. The day after she arrived, she was supposed to check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and faced possible deportation, as she was denied a stay of removal under the new policies of the Trump administration.

Instead of going to the check-in, she took sanctuary in the downtown church.

Nearly three years later, the Russian immigrant’s asylum case was reopened by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Kakhtiranova and supporters gathered outside the church on Thursday to celebrate that she could leave the church without fear of deportation.

“Three years ago I didn’t think this day would come,” she told a crowd outside the Unitarian Society in downtown Northampton on Thursday while others watched online. Some people held signs in her support and a few held American flags.

Kakhtiranova, who is married to a U.S. citizen and has three children, has been in the U.S. since 2003. She had been given stays of removal after overstaying a visa until 2017, after Donald Trump was elected, she previously told the Gazette. Before taking sanctuary in the church, she worked in restaurants.

Making sanctuary possible took a lot of people’s support, Kakhtiranova said. She thanked the Unitarian Society and its minister, the Rev. Janet Bush, and a team of people who stood behind her in a time of need. They helped do shopping, laundry, organized fundraisers, and spent time with her at the church.

“There are thousands of people and groups to thank,” Kakhtiranova said. “They left me alone when I needed space and gave me a shoulder to cry on, which happened so often. They let me sing loudly in the kitchen while I cooked, even though they told me, also, to stick to pierogi making.”

Kakhtiranova made and sold pierogies, including at the farmer’s market and at Cornucopia in Thornes Marketplace. She told the crowd she plans to restart her pierogi business soon.

She said Bush and her husband, Booker Bush, “have become my adoptive parents and have never left my side.”

Janet Bush thanked the volunteers and a number of local figures, including Mayor David Narkewicz and Police Chief Jody Kasper. “We are really so grateful to be living in a sanctuary city with leaders like you,” she said.

She also thanked Lucio Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant who recently left sanctuary at First Congregational Church in Amherst after living there for three years.

“You inspired us with your faith, your courage, and your determination,” Bush said, speaking to Perez, who stood on the steps of the church and later led the group in a prayer.

“Thank you so much for this victory,” Perez said, speaking in Spanish with an English translator.

Margaret Sawyer, the co-director of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center — which partnered with the Unitarian Society in supporting Kakhtiranova — praised Kakhtiranova and her bravery. “I just admire you so much,” she said.

“The work is not over,” Sawyer said, noting that there has been no major immigration reform passed. “But this one thing worked. People fought hard and we won. And if we don’t celebrate the victories, how do we keep moving forward?”

Kakhtiranova thanked her lawyer. She told the crowd she had several lawyers before connecting with Megan Kludt of the Northampton firm Curran, Berger & Kludt. “I knew she was different,” she said of Kludt.

“I still have a long road ahead of me, but now I have a path,” Kakhtiranova said. “I hope that all the other immigrants who are waiting for their better day will find it, too.”

“Now I’m going home,” said Kakhtiranova, noting that her and her husband’s 17-year anniversary was Thursday. “It will be wonderful to celebrate it at home. This moment is a great gift that we all worked so hard for.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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