RICHMOND, Va. -- Honduran-born Abbie Arevalo-Herrera came to the United States illegally in 2014 to seek asylum after she says the father of her first child made death threats against her.
She has since had another child and married a man who is a permanent resident.
Despite applying for asylum, Arevalo-Herrera is now facing imminent deportation and the separation of her family after she was told to report to ICE on Wednesday to be deported back to Honduras.
The mother of two has taken sanctuary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church near Byrd Park in Richmond.
"I don’t want to be taken away from my family," Arevalo-Herrera said with the help of a translator.
In January, the church announced that they would welcome in people from the Richmond area who are facing deportation.
Despite escaping from Honduras four years ago, Arevalo-Herrera says the threats from the father of her first child have not stopped.
“22 days ago, she received the most recent threat and they’re threats on her life and her children’s lives,” Lana Heath de Martinez, Welcoming All Coordinator for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said.
“We are privileged as a congregation to open our doors to the stranger. To bear witness. To welcome. To practice radical hospitality, because what it says in Jewish scriptures ‘you yourself were once strangers in this land,’” said Rev. Jeanne Pupke.
Arevalo-Herrera says she plans to stay at the church while she appeals her case.
“She’s here indefinitely. We have no idea if and when her case will be resolved,” said Heath de Martinez.
This comes nearly two weeks after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered immigration judges to tighten asylum restrictions.
"Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” he said.
That ruling is part of the “zero tolerance” policy that Sessions says was necessary to end the lawlessness that currently exists in the immigration system.
“The number of illegal entrants has surged; credible fear claims have sky-rocketed and the percentage of asylum claims found to be meritorious by our judges has declined significantly,” said Sessions. “That's because the vast majority of the current asylum claims we're seeing are not valid and you're not finding them valid.”
ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell provided the following statement on the matter:
On June 20, Abbie Arevalo-Herrera, a Honduran citizen illegally present in the U.S., failed to report to ICE for removal to Honduras and instead took sanctuary in a Richmond, Virginia, church, making her an ICE fugitive. An immigration judge issued her a final order of removal in March 2015, which required her to depart the U.S.