Editor's note: Abbie Arevalo-Herrera was to be deported after an immigration judge ruled that she was in the country illegally. Worried about threats from an abusive ex-husband in Honduras, she found sanctuary at First Unitarian Universalist Church last month after an emergency stay was denied in the wake of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ruling that domestic abuse was no longer grounds for asylum.
She remains inside the church thanks to a 2011 memo from the Department of Homeland Security recognizing churches as sensitive locations where immigration officers should not conduct raids unless there is a risk to public safety — and thanks to the congregation's generosity. However, as more churches offer sanctuary, the memo could be reversed and federal agents could take Arevalo-Herrera.
Alina Kilpatrick, a lawyer working with Arevalo-Herrera, has filed a motion to remand that is pending in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals, which can take time, she says. Now remarried to a lawful permanent resident, Arevalo-Herrera has an 11-year-old daughter and a son, 2, who is a U.S. citizen, with her inside the church.
In here I feel protected. My kids are adapting. I'm doing everything that I can so this situation in here is good for them.
I get up, make breakfast for my kids. And I try to do meals I would normally do at home and do what I can for them. I know for them it's more difficult. They're accustomed to playing with their friends and their neighborhood. If I could, I would go outside, but I don't feel safe enough to go outside.
My ex-husband [in Honduras] assaulted me in many ways and that has me in fear of returning to my country. He's someone who leads a gang, so wherever I would go, he would find me. I know there are many people here who could give him information.
He wouldn't let me work. And when I would go to my grandparents', he would go around the perimeter of their house banging with a machete. Many times he would take my [daughter] from my arms and not give her back. He uses my kids to hurt me. He tells me I will never see my daughter.
When I came [to the United States] I didn't want to bring my 10-month-old daughter because I was afraid she would die on the way, so I left her with my mom. He'll go to my mom's and demand my daughter. She is scared and gives her to him. Sometimes he'll be up until 2 or 3 in the morning on the streets with her. … [Begins to tear up] It was really difficult to leave my daughter of 10 months. It hurts me.
I don't know how much time it's going to be [staying here]. But I do have the ability to stay here for as much time as I need, from the reverend. I have the faith and hope that something is going to move in the hearts of the people who have taken away our protections.
I don't know why [Jeff Sessions] would decide to [end asylum for domestic abuse victims]. Maybe because he sees so many coming. I know there are people here from the U.S. who have never had to experience the types of violence we experience in Latin America. I know many women who have had to leave. I never thought this would be where I'm living.
Before, I was seeing other women go through this, and I thought, "Why are you staying in this?" Then I found myself in the exact same situation. I thought to myself, "Because I have two daughters, looking at them and knowing they would one day be women, I wouldn't want them to live through this." No human being should have to.
Honestly, I've never had issues with people here in America other than with immigration. The people here can be very protective — it's not the same as our country where one has to figure out by themselves how to move forward.
[I came to Richmond in December 2013 because] I had an uncle here who's already been deported. He was the only uncle I had here, and he told me I could come stay here, even in the corner of his apartment.
My [current] husband is a citizen. He tries to support me in every way he can. He stays here at night, we only see him then because he works all day as a roofer, from very early to very late.
I try to keep up with the news and see what's happening, especially with the other children and the separations with their families. S