Woman illegally in country seeks asylum at church in Virginia

Undocumented immigrant seeks asylum at Richmond church
Updated: Jun. 20, 2018 at 11:16 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A woman in the country illegally is seeking sanctuary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Abbie Arevalo-Herrera fears ICE will deport her back to her native Honduras. She says she fled the country four years ago, because her ex-husband threatened to kill her.

She wants asylum, but Attorney General Jeff Session recently ruled domestic violence can not be used as a reason for asylum.

"I don't want to be taken away from my family," said Arevalo-Herrera.

With tear-filled eyes, Arevalo-Herrera makes her plea to a sanctuary packed with hundreds.

"I'm going to fight for my case, and I'm going to fight for my family," said Arevalo-Herrera.

Arevalo-Herrera and her young daughter are at risk of deportation to her native Honduras.

"We are privileged as a congregation to open our doors to the stranger," said Reverend Jeanne Pupke with the First Unitarian Universalist Church. "Abbie and her family belong here. They belong in a place which will stop time with the right of sanctuary."

The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond wants to keep Arevalo-Herrera from being deported by granting her and her family sanctuary.

"This all hinges on the executive memo from the Obama administration that designated places of worship as sensitive locations where ICE is not supposed to enter and take people into custody without extenuating circumstances," said Lana Heath de Martinez with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

Heath de Martinez says Arevalo-Herrera received a call from the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program on Tuesday evening, telling her they were going to deport her.

"They told her that she needed to come in this morning at eight o'clock, that they were going to remove her ankle monitor and that they were going to put her on a plane," said Heath de Martinez.

Heath de Martinez says out of fear, Arevalo-Herrera contacted her lawyer, who pointed her to the First Unitarian Universalist Church.

Arevalo-Herrera fears she and her daughter's lives may be in danger if they are deported to Honduras, where her abusive ex-husband is.

"She continues to receive threats from the father of her oldest child," said Heath de Martinez. "Twenty-two days ago, she received the most recent threat - and they are threats on her life."

Since coming to the U.S., Arevalo-Herrera has remarried and now has a two-year-old son.

Heath de Martinez says the church doesn't want to see Arevalo-Herrera and her daughter separated from their new family, and the church will continue fighting until steps can be made for Arevalo-Herrera to attain citizenship.

"Every faith tradition shares the values of caring for the vulnerable and uplifting the oppressed and fighting for liberation for those who are not free," said Heath de Martinez.

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