Churches shut down by coronavirus offer refuge to immigrants released from detention

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Before Tsegai fled Eritrea and made the months-long journey to the United States to seek asylum, his image of this country was colored by what he’d seen on TV.

America, he thought, was the kind of place where people could be welcomed in with nothing and manage to turn their lives around.

But when the 30-year-old arrived last year on Christmas Day, officials cuffed his wrists and ankles and led him to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, where he spent eight months detained. Tsegai asked The Times to identify him only by his first name out of fear of persecution.

“I didn’t expect it, so it was a very terrifying experience,” he said through an interpreter.

A nonprofit paid Tsegai’s $25,000 bond and on Sept. 8, he was released from the Adelanto ICE Processing Facility and moved into an Episcopal church two hours east of Los Angeles.

“Now that I am out of the ICE facility, I can see the true America that I had envisioned,” he said. “There’s so much kindness, there’s so much good outside of the ICE facility.”

Tsegai is one of a growing number of immigrants across the country finding temporary refuge in houses of worship rendered empty by the coronavirus pandemic, after being released from detention facilities.

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