Originally published in the Autumn 2018 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 58, printed November 8. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2018 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post (pending). For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
By Aileen Rivera
Abbie Arevalo Herrera is a 31-year-old mom from Honduras who came to the United States in 2014 with her oldest daughter, trying to escape domestic violence by her ex-husband, who she says had been abusing her for years and had threatened to kill her if she left. Abbie is now married to a man who is a lawful permanent resident and has a second child, who is a U.S. citizen.
I first met Abbie at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, which is providing sanctuary for her and her two children. The church had decided in January of this year to open its doors to people threatened with deportation because of their immigration status. Law enforcement generally does not enter places of worship to arrest immigrants.
Abbie had applied for asylum, but in June of this year U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that asylum seekers could no longer cite domestic abuse or gang violence as a basis for staying in this country. As a result, Abbie was told she had to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be deported back to Honduras, one of the world’s most violent countries.
For this interview we met in the church’s gray, windowless basement. My first impression was, “How much fear must you live in to be OK with living in such a cold, dreary hole with a 2- and 11-year old?” It reminded me that, throughout history, many people have survived in those circumstances and worse – but in 2018 in the United States? Abbie is a kind, tough, sweet and smart woman. Even after all she’s been through, she still lights up when she talks about the future and her kids.
This is our interview:
AR: Is there a question that has not been asked that you would like to talk about?
AAH: It’s not easy to be an immigrant. When we come here, we’re fleeing. I think that if we already come with trauma, we continue to be traumatized. I’ve had three or four people yelling, “You have to leave this country,” “What are you doing in this country,” “You don’t belong in this country,” “Nobody wants you in this country,” and all I can do is cry. They feel so superior just because they are ICE agents and they were born in a country like this.
I understand there’s more respect here for women, but not for women from Central America or that come from another country. It’s so inhumane to see that they humiliate you just because you have the need to survive. And that’s what so many Americans can’t see.
AR: What would you like people to know?
AAH: I’m going to fight for my freedom. I hope that I get support, because I think that’s what I need right now – a lot of support from the people on the outside of this church.
My message to the Latin community? I would like for them to not be quiet. They need to get out and speak up and fight for our human rights, because we all have the right to live. What I’m most worried about right now is to have my freedom – that they don’t deport me and that I’m with my family.
AR: If you could give a suggestion to help the immigration issue, what would that be?
AAH: I would suggest that they return the law that sheltered us, that protected us. People here don’t understand, because they’ll never be exposed to the dangers that we are exposed to in our country (Honduras).
For example, in 2013, each day there were one to two women that were reported dead. Many have been killed with their children. Those are things people here will never understand because that will never happen here. And none of the killings have been resolved.
AR: What is one action that we here in the United States can do to help immigrants?
AAH: Make ICE disappear. Abolish ICE. That the Department of Justice wouldn’t allow it to exist any longer.
If you look back at when God created the world, God didn’t create borders. If we go into space, you can’t see the borders. I believe He made a world for everyone so we can all treat each other equally, but sadly that’s not how it is. As human beings, we have many flaws.
My hope is that my experience will help a lot of people. From a young age, I would advise friends that were in abusive relationships to get out of the relationship. I would somewhat judge the women that I would see being hit. And one day when I was the victim and wanted to get out of the relationship, I realized that it wasn’t as easy as I thought, and that taught me a great lesson. I hope that this helps a lot of women.
It’s not easy. To feel that day after day your life is consumed and that you never know if you’ll be there the next day, especially when you have children, it’s very hard.
To follow Abbie’s story, please like and follow #HandsOffAbbie.
Categories: No Hay Fronteras en la Lucha de Los Obreros