(RNS) — The message Pastor Isaac Villegas got on his cell phone earlier this week was short and sweet.

“Un problema menos,” texted Rosa del Carmen Ortez-Cruz, a mother of four living in sanctuary at a Presbyterian church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

“One less problem.”

She was referring to a letter her lawyer received informing her that the $300,000 in fines she owed the government for overstaying her deportation order had been dropped.

Ortez-Cruz was one of nine immigrants taking refuge in sanctuary churches across the country who received letters from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in July, fining them hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties for disobeying orders to leave the country.

“From the beginning, it felt like an absurdity,” said Villegas,

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