COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – She is the first person in Ohio to leave church sanctuary as a legal resident, and she wants to remain anonymous for now.
They call her Angelica and her journey began 19 years ago when she came to the United States. She sought a path to legal citizenship, but ended up being a victim of a crime, which allowed her to apply for a U Visa.
A U Visa is a nonimmigrant visa, which is set aside specifically for victims of crimes and their immediate family members, who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse while in the U.S. and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. The U Visa those victims to enter or remain in the U.S. when they might not otherwise be able to do so.
Angelica's first request for a U Visa was denied. According to her attorneys, government officials had questions about her application.
Angelica did not want to be deported while waiting for an appeal, so in October 2018, she went into sanctuary at Just North United Church of Christ.
She lived in a small room with her young child. Her new attorneys, Inna Simakovsky and Liliana Vasquez, filed an appeal and won, ultimately getting Angelica's U Visa. This meant Immigration and Customs Enforcement no longer had grounds to try and detain her.
“It was a lot of hugging, a lot of tears, a lot of pictures," Vasquez said. "It is unfortunate that sometimes people need those documents to feel validated and she finally has them, and she can come out of the shadow.”
It was in that moment of hugs and tears that Angelica realized she was free to leave sanctuary.
It was a group effort to respect Angelica’s privacy and to keep her safe.
“Everyone wanted to protect her identity," Simakovsky said. "Everyone wanted to protect her family. Everyone wanted to do what was necessary to get to success."
Both attorneys believe this victory gives others hope.
“This is the first person to leave sanctuary successfully [in Ohio] but there’s a lot of other cases out there," Simakovsky said.
The attorneys said it takes 6 to 8 years on average to get a U Visa.