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Federal immigration officials said she had to leave by Dec. 10 – even though her attorney was petitioning a court in Texas for a stay of her deportation order, citing her three U.S.-born children, whom she is raising on her own.

The Fredericksburg, Virginia, resident couldn’t imagine leaving her 11-year-old daughter and her sons, ages 9 and 6, the younger of whom has Down syndrome. But the life she envisioned for them was not in Central America, where special-needs resources are scarce and gangs maraud her old neighborhood.

So Gutierrez Lopez, 40, never boarded the airplane. Instead, she sought sanctuary at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda.

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