KUSA - A mother of three is claiming sanctuary in a Denver church and was welcomed into the place of worship with a ceremony Wednesday morning.
Araceli Velasquez, 26, is the fifth person to take sanctuary in the Denver metro area.
Velasquez faces deportation after being in the United States for seven years. She fled El Salvador as a teenager.
When Velasquez came to the United States in 2010, she turned herself over to immigration and asked for asylum. After being detained for a month and a half, she says was released. She met and married her husband and had two children.
In 2016, the government denied her asylum request but she was given a stay of deportation because she was pregnant with her third son. An extension was also denied. The original stay expired in July, which is why she is took sanctuary in the church.
The Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah threw Velasquez a welcome party of sorts but it was one she never wanted.
"I never imagined that I'd have to do this. That simply to stay with my family, that I would have to seek refuge in a church," Velasquez said.
The mother of three young boys said she felt that at her last appointment with immigration officials, she would be detained. She never showed up to the Aug. 9 meeting.
The Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah share the same building. It is now her new home.
"And so we stand today to cast light on the broken immigration system of our country. We are honored and privileged to have Araceli here with her family but the truth is that we wish we didn't have to offer sanctuary," Pastor Nathan Adams told the community member in the church.
The church protects Velasquez. Immigration policy considers places of worship and schools "sensitive locations" and in most cases will not arrest, interview or search someone there. But it also prevents her from taking part in family milestones.
"It's hard because I had always had the dream of my son going to school and my taking him to his first day of school and I had to let that go. I didn't get to do that," she said.
Her 4-year-old son Jorge's first day of school was Tuesday.
Velasquez doesn't know how long she'll be at the church and is working to be able to return home.
"She had applied for asylum, that had been denied and she is working through legal means and needed more time but had a stay of removal denied recently, as is happening a lot now. And so she didn't have any other legal means. These were her options, were to come here," explained Gabriela Flora, with the American Friends Service Committee.
Velasquez' husband Jorge is in the United States legally and said if Araceli is deported, his three U.S. born sons would end up with her in El Salvador.
"Like all husbands, I adore my wife, I absolutely adore my wife. I want to be with my wife and with my family. That's what I want," he said.
Jorge stays with his wife in the church at night and goes to work during the day. He said immigration officials showed up to his work on Friday asking for Araceli.
"Churches as sanctuaries, shines a light on the system, inhumane system that is tearing families apart and allows Araceli to be here, with a large sacrifice, but to fight her case and raise awareness about what is happening," Flora said.
There are now 11 churches in Denver offering asylum, but Velasquez is the only person we know of currently hiding in a church in Denver. There's a woman in a church in Durango, as well.
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