Advocates hopeful undocumented immigrants in sanctuary could soon return home

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WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) – Two Central Ohio women living in sanctuary are hoping new executive orders will allow them to go home for the first time in several years.

Edith Espinal has been living at Columbus Mennonite Church in Clintonville for more than 3 years. Miriam Vargas moved into First English Lutheran Church more than 2 years ago. Neither woman, both of whom are undocumented immigrants, has set foot outside of the sanctuaries for fear of deportation.

“It’s just unfathomable to think about how long they’ve been there and the type of mental health concerns that they have from being in one place this long,” said Columbus City Council member Emmanuel Remy.

Tuesday, Remy joined Reverend Joel Miller, the pastor at Columbus Mennonite Church, in delivering applications for a stay of deportation for both Espinal and Vargas.

“We feel like it’s a new day and it’s a new time. And it’s time for them to be able to leave sanctuary and to go home,” said Rev. Miller.

Previous requests have been denied by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but supporters for the women said they’re hopeful the policies of newly sworn-in President Joe Biden will help their cause.

“One thing’s for certain,” Remy said. “It’s a new day under this administration and certainly there is hope now.”

A small crowd of supporters holding signs and singing hymns waited as Remy and Miller went inside to deliver the applications and discuss them with the ICE assistant field office director.

When they emerged, they explained they were cautiously optimistic the women may soon be able to go home.

“He does have discretion and the power to grant them a stay,” Miller said of the supervisor they spoke to. “That is the point. They have the power to do this.”

He also asked the agent for clarification on President Biden’s recent executive order pausing most deportations for 100 days.

“Unless they would do something illegal during those 100 days, he seemed to give indication that they could be at home and they would not be pursued by ICE,” Miller said.

Remy added, “He gave his personal assurance that none of his officers would be waiting outside of the sanctuaries, nor would they be waiting outside of their homes.”

The leaders said it was a promising start, though they expect Espinal and Vargas will be skeptical to leave sanctuary until they receive official approval.

“As you can imagine, somebody that’s been in sanctuary for over 2 years and over 3 years [is] probably a little hesitant to believe everything that they hear,” said Remy.

The ICE agent told Remy and Miller he would seek clarification on Biden’s policy from his supervisors. They said he would likely wait to make a decision on the request for stay of removal until after more communication expected to be released on February 2nd.

Miller said, “We are here for this stay of removal application that will give the ability to be at home and to start a life well beyond that hundred days.”

Columbus City Council plans to write an official letter to Senator Sherrod Brown, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and other members of Congress, urging them to prioritize Espinal and Vargas’ applications and help expedite the process.

Remy and Miller urged supporters Tuesday to make phone calls and write their own letters to Congress urging the same.

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