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Protesters Demand ICE Stay Deportations For Two Columbus Immigrants

Edith Espinal (right) speaks at the Columbus Mennonite Church, where she's been in sanctuary since 2017.
Adora Namigadde

A group of protesters downtown called for ICE agents to grant stays of removal for two undocumented immigrants who have taken sanctuary in Columbus churches.

Some faith leaders and politicians gathered outside the LeVeque Tower on Thursday morning to advocate on behalf of Miriam Vargas and Edith Espinal.

Vargas is from Honduras, and has been in sanctuary at First English Lutheran Church since 2018. Espinal, who was born in Mexico but lived in Columbus since 1995, took sanctuary at Columbus Mennonite Churchin 2017.

Both women are seeking stays of removal under the new administration of President Joe Biden. A stay of removal prevents the Department of Homeland Security from following through on a deportation order until further notice re-enacts it.

Columbus Mennonite Church's Joel Miller says the protest did not go as planned.

“The first thing we found out is ICE is moving their offices. So we were not able to apply there at LeVeque,” Miller says. “We had a press conference, then there was a caravan of us that went up to their new Westerville office.”

ICE agents asked Miller and others to return Tuesday to submit the applications, and they plan to do so.

“I don’t know what to expect. But it depends on how aggressive the new administration is gonna be with changing things,” Miller says. “It might take a little time, but we’re definitely more hopeful than we were November 1.”

The Columbus Mennonite Church publicly offered sanctuaryto Espinal, who has three children – two of whom are U.S. citizens – after the Trump administration declined to grant her asylum. Under ICE policy, churches are considered "sensitive locations" and agents will generally not make arrests there.

The newly-inaugurated Biden administration temporarily paused deportations in the U.S. for some noncitizens for 100 days.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.