Honduran woman is free after living nearly 3 years in sanctuary at Richmond church

Abbie Arevalo Herrera

33-year-old Abbie Arevalo-Herrera stands in the entryway to her home in the basement of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond. She hasn’t stepped outside the church since seeking sanctuary from ICE in 2018. Keyris Manzanares/8News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Abbie Arevalo is a free woman — for now.

After years of fighting for her freedom, Arevalo has been granted a stay of removal by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Thursday, February 25 after nearly three years of living in the basement of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, Arevalo stepped outside without fear of detention or deportation.

Alina Kilpatrick, Arevalo’s lawyer, reported that ICE granted the Richmond-area mother a 1-year stay of removal. This was made possible under the new guidelines issued in a memo from the Department of Homeland Security directing ICE to prioritize threats to security and public safety.

ICE told 8News that Arevalo’s lawyer filed the stay of removal request with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) office in Richmond on Feb. 22. On Feb. 25, the request was approved.

An ICE spokesperson said that the agency reviews stay requests on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with law and policy. These stays could be approved for up to a year at a time.

Non-citizens or their lawyers can reapply for a stay and pay the fee each year after stating why the stay is being requested.

“Stays are a temporary action that should not be construed to imply someone is not removable nor do they grant any type of permanent status,” ICE said.

Arevalo thanked church members and volunteers in a press release Sunday. She said they helped her feel safe for the last 32 months.

“I have received so much from all of you. When I came here, I knew no one and I was afraid. Today I am happy to have my freedom but am reminded I made good friends here,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo has returned to live with her family in Henrico County.

“This was the right result. I am grateful to the Biden administration for keeping its promise to immigrant families,” Kilpatrick said in a release. “Abbie will continue to pursue her legal options
as a free woman. Her children deserve to have a mother who can hold their hand at the doctor, cheer at their sports games, and play with them in the park. Now, they have that.”

Arevalo took sanctuary in a Richmond house of worship in order to avoid being deported to Honduras. Arevalo fears being killed by her ex-partner if she were to be forced to return to her home country.

For the last few years, she has been a woman who obtained freedom from her violent partner only to be confined by the walls of a church.

In October of last year, 8News was able to get an exclusive look at how Arevalo lived.

Her day-to-day was anything but normal. At the time, Arevalo confessed she missed nature and getting the chance to feel free without fear. She also worried about her children.

Her youngest son, a U.S. citizen, was living in sanctuary with her and she often thought about how it would affect his development.

But she made due. During her time in sanctuary, Arevalo became an advocate for others like her.She spent a lot of her time attending meetings with the National Sanctuary Collective and learning English.

8News will continue to follow Arevalo’s story. Stay with us for updates.

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