Edith Espinal’s stay in the Columbus Mennonite Church, where she had sought sanctuary on the evening of Sept. 4 to keep from being deported, was unexpectedly brief.
Instead of the protracted standoff with the federal government anticipated by members of the congregation, the 39-year-old longtime Columbus resident accompanied her attorney to a scheduled check-in Sept. 6 with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials
Espinal, an undocumented immigrant, was given 18 days to return carrying a plane ticket to her native Mexico, although she was allowed to file for a stay from the pending deportation order, a move which her attorney said she would take on behalf of her client.
“It will give her some breathing room, but it’s no guarantee,” Inna Simakovsky told The Dispatch.
Espinal, married and the mother of three children, two of whom are U.S. citizens, returned after that meeting to her home instead of the church.
It was an abrupt end to what had been a great deal of behind-the-scenes drama and decision-making as members of the Mennonite church on Oakland Park Avenue in Clintonville grappled with taking a public stand on behalf of the woman, who has lived in Columbus for more than 10 years.
Tom Stried, a member since 2010 and current congregational chairman, said Columbus Mennonite’s involvement with Espinal’s plight began Aug. 24 when the church's pastor, the Rev. Joel Miller, attended a meeting called by Faith in Public Life and the Central Ohio Workers Center. At that gathering, Stried said it was announced that Espinal, who had been fighting to stay in the United States with her family for several years, “was coming to the end of her rope as far as ICE was concerned and things were going to happen very quickly.”
“It was basically a call to action,” Stried said.
Other churches were represented Aug. 24, but none were able to offer a place for Espinal to stay. Miller convened an emergency meeting of the church’s leadership team Aug. 26 regarding the situation and it was presented to the congregation during the following day’s service.
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive in support of us helping Edith,” Stried said.
Another meeting was held Aug. 30.
“We gathered additional feedback at that Wednesday meeting and it was even more overwhelmingly in support of our church helping her,” Stried said Sept. 6. “That night, the leadership team voted unanimously to offer our building as sanctuary for Edith with the understanding that it would begin this past Monday night because Tuesday, yesterday, was her last scheduled check-in with ICE.”
Espinal skipped that meeting, but went the following day
“Through this whole time we kept it as quiet as we could until she was safely in our building and then we went public with it,” Stried said.
That public declaration took the form of a Sept. 5 news conference in the parking lot of the church.
“Today, Columbus, Ohio, truly became a sanctuary city, because sanctuary comes from the people,” Ruben Castilla Herrera of the Central Ohio Worker Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization said at the gathering.
“Today, we are welcoming Edith into sanctuary in our church building,” Joel Miller said.
He described Espinal as a neighbor, a mother and a “child of God” for whom Columbus has become home, and added that he has been inspired by the woman’s courage.
“I’d like to thank you for being here to listen to our story,” Espinal told the more than 100 people who attended the announcement, with the help of interpreter Maria Ramos from Avanza Together, also a nonprofit advocacy group. “I’m fighting to keep my family united.”
“We are aware that our church now has kind of taken center stage in not only Columbus but in the state and maybe even in the country in this whole situation,” Stried said while Espinal still was expected to remain at the church. “We are aware of that. We are proud of that. We are aware of the historical significance of this, but we don’t sit around and talk about this. We care about Edith. She desperately wants to stay in Columbus with her children and with her husband.”
“I don’t want her to go or to leave us at all,” daughter Stephanie Gonzalez Espinal said at the news conference, fighting back tears. “It’s not just us. It’s more families that get separated every day.
“My mom means everything to me.”
Previous storyClintonville church now immigrant's sanctuary
Columbus entered largely uncharted territory a little after 11 a.m. Sept. 5 when a Clintonville church opened its doors to a woman facing a deportation order.
At a news conference in the parking lot of the Columbus Mennonite Church on Oakland Park Avenue, attended by dozens of members of clergy from an array of denominations and faith groups, it was announced that Edith Espinal would take up residence in the building.
Originally from Mexico, Espinal is a 10-year resident of Columbus. Married and the mother of three, including two children born in the United States, Espinal has “exhausted all options,” according to a Facebook page created by the Ohio Interfaith Immigration and Migrant Justice coalition to invite people to the gathering.
“Today, Columbus, Ohio, truly became a sanctuary city, because sanctuary comes from the people,” announced Ruben Castilla Herrera of the Central Ohio Worker Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
He said this was the first public instance of someone being offered sanctuary in Ohio, and one of fewer than a half-dozen cases nationwide that have gone public.
“I’d like to thank you for being here to listen to our story,” Espinal told the nearly 100 people who attended the announcement, with the help of interpreter Maria Ramos from Avanza Together, also a nonprofit advocacy group. “I’m fighting to keep my family united.”
Espinal said she is not a criminal, has tried to obey the laws and has paid her taxes.
“I’d like my children to have a better life,” she said.
“I don’t want her to go or to leave us at all,” daughter Stephanie Gonzalez Espinal said, fighting back tears. “It’s not just us. It’s more families that get separated every day.
“My mom means everything to me.”
Thanks to her mother coming to the United States a decade ago, Stephanie Espinal said she may get to go to college and have a career.
“This is the ultimate civil disobedience,” Herrera said in his opening remarks before giving way to the Rev. Joel Miller of Columbus Mennonite Church.
“Today, we are welcoming Edith into sanctuary in our church building,” Miller said.
Miller described Espinal as a neighbor, a mother and a “child of God” for whom Columbus has become home. He added he has been inspired by the woman’s courage.
“Indifference is the evil we need to combat,” Rabbi Jessica Shimberg of Little Minyan Kehilla said during her remarks.
“I stand today for justice, compassion and the common good,” said the Rev. Dan Clark, Ohio deputy director for Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based nonprofit.
Clark called on those in attendance to donate for causes seeking immigration reform and to vote for candidates who will oppose what he termed the “racist and xenophobic” administration of President Donald J. Trump.
“That will make us great again,” Clark said. “America will be great again when Edith and others like her are welcomed with open arms.”
In conclusion, Herrera said volunteers would help to coordinate the logistics of Espinal’s stay at the church.
“Nobody wants to live in a church, necessarily,” Herrera added. “I say that with love.”