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Edith Espinal Returning Home After Three Years In Sanctuary At Columbus Church

Edith Espinal, right, was granted an order of supervision by ICE on Feb. 18, 2021, allowing her to return home after three years in sanctuary.
Adora Namigadde
Edith Espinal, right, was granted an order of supervision by ICE on Feb. 18, 2021, allowing her to return home after three years in sanctuary.

Undocumented immigrant Edith Espinal is going home after spending more than three years in sanctuary at Columbus Mennonite Church.

“To have my life back, my normal life back. Because after 40 months, I can," Espinal said at a press conference Thursday. "Too many things happen in my life. It’s not only being in sanctuary, other things happen, and I’m happy to get my life back.”

Espinal, a mother of three, is from Mexico but has lived in the U.S. since 1995. She's lived in Columbus since 2000, and has applied for asylum.

In 2017, after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied her a stay of deportation and forced her to purchase a plane ticket to Mexico, Espinal accepted sanctuary at the Columbus Mennonite Church.

On Thursday, Espinal accompanied her attorney, along with Democratic activist Morgan Harper and Columbus Mennonite Church pastor Joel Miller, to the ICE offices in Westerville to once again request a reversal of the deportation order.

Although ICE did not revoke her deportation order, agents agreed to grant her an order of supervision. Orders are supervision are issued when individuals have been released from ICE’s physical custody, and directs a non-citizen to appear at regular ICE check-ins.

Crowd of protestors wait to hear results from Espinal's visit with ICE agents.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU
Crowd of protestors wait to hear results from Espinal's visit with ICE agents.

Espinal's attorney Lizbeth Mateo, herself an undocumented immigrant, says orders of supervision are rare.

“It’s rare because it hasn’t happened in the last four or five years. Also the Trump administration, we were hoping to get something similar,” Mateo says. “Hopefully something better, but that didn’t happen. So now we’re glad we can at least get this.”

Although Espinal was not legally protected inside the church, under ICE policy, agents typically avoid enforcement actions at "sensitive locations" such as schools or places of worship.

In 2019, ICE issued Espinal a fine of almost $500,000, part of a wave of expensive charges levied by former President Trump's administration against immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. ICE waived the fee several months later. Following the transition to President Biden's administration in January, Espinal sought a new stay of removal, but ICE denied the request.

Under the new order, Espinal's next check-in will be in a few months.

“Based on this order of supervision, she’s free to go today,” Mateo says. “There is nothing guaranteed tomorrow or in the next few months. So we will have to be on the lookout to make sure that she’s safe.”

Mateo and Espinal say they will continue to fight for the deportation order to be lifted completely.

“You know, my lawyers say I have visa pre-approved pending, and that’s why I want to follow to fight for my case,” Espinal said. “This is not done, but I’m going to fight more to figure out my immigration status.”

New guidance announced by the Biden administration Thursday is expected to reduce the number of arrests and deportations carried out by ICE. In contrast to the Trump administration's hard-line policies, ICE is now directed to focus on non-citizens who recently crossed the border illegally or who could be threats to public safety or national security, such as those convicted of participating in criminal gang activity or committing aggravated felonies like murder or rape.

"Field officers have been instructed to seek pre-approval from supervisors before making arrests of non-citizens convicted of other crimes, such as minor drug offenses, immigration offenses, and driving under the influence," NPR reports. "In practice, that means ICE arrests would be limited largely to immigrants who have been convicted of felony offenses and are already detained in federal or state prisons.”

Members of Columbus City Council declared their support for Espinal in a press release.

“Keeping families like Edith’s together makes our entire community stronger," Council president pro tem Elizabeth Brown wrote. "Edith is a long-time and welcomed resident of Columbus, and until we see comprehensive federal reform to fix our broken immigration system, it is imperative that we exercise our values as a nation through common sense steps that allow her to remain with her family.”

"It was an honor to stand next to her through this process and to finally see a more favorable outcome for Edith and her family," added Council member Emmanuel Remy. "There is more work to do and I look forward to staying involved with Edith’s journey.”

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.