Rosa Gutiérrez Lopez moved to the United States 13 years ago and had three American-born children.
She recently checked in with immigration officials and was ordered to return to her home country of El Salvador. She bought a ticket but, fearing for her safety, opted to take refuge in a church in Bethesda, Maryland.
On Monday, Lopez moved in to Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Maryland. She and a network of congregations that support immigrants say she'll stay at the church indefinitely.
"We are a welcoming congregation, and everyone is welcome here," Assistant Minister Katie Romano Griffin said.
Lopez, 40, will be visited by her children, who are 11, 9 and 6. Her youngest child has Down syndrome.
Lopez fled El Salvador in 2005 and sought asylum. She checked in with immigration officials every year starting in 2014 and, since last year, every two weeks. She considered returning to Central America but decided to stay in Maryland and fight her case for asylum.
"I made this decision because I need to help my youngest child, who has special needs. I can't leave. I need to fight my case from here. I can't do it from over there and without him," she said Wednesday. She spoke at a ceremony held at the church to pray for her.
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Lopez said she will remain at the church until a judge reviews her case.
Advocates told The Washington Post that Lopez is the first undocumented immigrant to take refuge at a house of worship in the D.C. area in recent years.
Earlier this year, a woman and her 2-year-old son took refuge in a Unitarian Universalist church in Richmond, Virginia, to avoid deportation to Honduras.