No Hay Fronteras en la Lucha de Los Obreros


Originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 59, printed August 23. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2019 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Phil Wilayto

The eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” 

So how does that square with the nearly $300,000 fine the government says it wants to impose on a young immigrant mother in Richmond who for the past year has been living in a church basement?

Earlier this summer, the First Unitarian Church of Richmond received a “notice of intent” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that said ICE intended to levy a fine of $295,630 against Abbie Arevalo-Herrera, who has been living in the church since June of 2018. The fine would be for violation of a deportation order. 

Six years ago, Arevalo-Herrera fled her native Honduras with her eldest daughter to escape what she says was eight years of violent domestic abuse. (See her interview with the Defender in the Summer 2018 edition online here.) She left behind an infant child, fearful it would not survive the dangerous journey, and came north, hoping to start a new life in the safety of the United States. 

Instead, she arrived about the time U.S. Attorney General William Barr ignored more than 30 years of legal precedent and ruled that domestic violence would no longer be considered a basis for granting asylum. 

Abbie Arevalo-Herrera speaking at a Virginia Poor People’s Campaign rally at
the First Unitarian Church of Richmond. Photo by Phil Wilayto.

Arevalo-Herrera was arrested by border agents in Texas and spent days in what she said was a small cage. After being released, family members helped her find a place to stay in Richmond. She followed what she thought were proper procedures to obtain legal status, but, thanks to what she says were mistakes made by attorneys working on her case, her application for asylum was denied and she was ordered to leave the country. 

Fearful about returning to Honduras, one of the poorest and most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere, she accepted an offer for sanctuary from the First Unitarian Church of Richmond, a liberal congregation bordering Byrd Park.

Arevalo-Herrera is now married to a man who is a lawful permanent U.S. resident. They have a child together, who also lives in the church. Because of her husband’s legal status, she has applied for a U.S. visa. But even if she receives it, she still faces deportation and would have to return to Honduras for five years.

And now she may owe the government more than a quarter-million dollars. The fines are a tactic ICE is using across the country, apparently to try and frighten threatened immigrants to leave. 

Another Virginia case is that of Maria Chavalan Sut, an immigrant from Guatemala who has taken sanctuary since October at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville. ICE is threatening to fine her $214,132. 

Arevalo-Herrera’s new attorney, Alina Kilpatrick, says it may be possible to appeal the fine or fight it in federal court. 

In the meantime, Abbie and her two children are staying in the church, hoping that ICE continues its present policy of not arresting people taking sanctuary in a place of worship. For more information on Abbie Arevalo-Herrera, including how you can help, see the Facebook page “Hands off Abbie.” 


Independientemente de su estatus migratorio, usted tiene derechos garantizados por la Constitución. Aprende más aquí sobre sus derechos como inmigrante y cómo expresarlos: immigrants-rights

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