RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Behind the doors of the downstairs room, they have placed a mattress on the floor and piled blankets on top. In a nearby child center room, her 2-year-old son grabs a toy car and bangs it against the shelf. Manuel Areta then toddles over to her, throwing his head back to cry. His mother hoists him into her lap.
This is where Abbie Arevalo-Herrera slept on a Tuesday night, and where she, Manuel and her 11-year-old daughter now live. They will stay here indefinitely - 24 hours a day, perhaps for years - to avoid Arevalo-Herrera’s deportation back to Honduras. The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond has offered them sanctuary, becoming what advocates said was the first known case in Virginia of a church taking in someone under the designation.
The 30-year-old’s decision to seek sanctuary as President Donald Trump’s administration faces a firestorm of criticism in another immigration matter: its policy of separating children from their parents when they are found illegally crossing into the U.S. On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order designed to keep families together.
The congregation at First Unitarian Universalist Church decided in January to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
“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 the Rev. Jeanne Pupke, who is senior minister at the church near Byrd Park.
Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswomen for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday that “religious centers” fall under “a sensitive locations policy” where Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not perform enforcement actions unless there are extenuating circumstances such as a risk to public safety. Cutrell said Arevalo-Herrera became an ICE fugitive Wednesday when she didn’t report to ICE for removal to Honduras.
For Arevalo-Herrera, the church was the safest place she could think of and her last hope. Deportation, she said through an interpreter Wednesday, will mean separation from her two children in the U.S. She also is afraid that she will be killed by the father of the child she left in Honduras, she said.
“They are the reason I fight every day. It’s the only thing I want because I already lost one child,” she said.
She left Honduras four years ago, leaving her infant daughter with her mother. She feared her daughter wouldn’t survive the monthlong journey to the U.S., where she at one point ran for miles from people the group thought were cartels. The girl is now 5....If Arevalo-Herrera had stayed any longer in