Protesters gathered outside the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Westerville to demand stays of removal for Edith Espinal and Miriam Vargas, two undocumented immigrants who have spent the last several years in sanctuary at local churches.
Columbus Mennonite Church pastor Joel Miller and Columbus City Council member Emmanuel Remy met with an ICE agent for around 30 minutes on Tuesday morning to discuss options for Espinal and Vargas. Espinal, who is from Mexico but lived in Columbus since 1995, has stayed in sanctuary at the Columbus Mennonite Church since 2017, while Vargas, who is from Honduras, entered sanctuary at the English Lutheran Church in 2018.
ICE did not grant the stays of removal. But Remy said ICE does not deem either woman to be priority subjects of deportation.
“(The ICE agent) gave his personal assurance that none of his officers would be waiting outside the sanctuaries, nor would they be waiting outside their homes,” Remy said.
“Unless they would do something illegal during those 100 days, (the ICE agent) seemed to give indication that they can be at home and would not be pursued by ICE,” Miller added.
Remy plans to ask Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) to pressure the Department of Homeland Security to grant stays of removal for Vargas and Espinal.
A stay of removal prevents Homeland Security from following through on a deportation order until further notice re-enacts it. Both women are renewing their efforts to seek stays under President Joe Biden, who temporarily paused deportations for some non-U.S. citizens for 100 days shortly after taking office.
However, a federal judge on Tuesday blocked that order for two weeks, after a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Baxton cited an agreement with former President Donald Trump that required Homeland Security to consult Texas before making changes to federal immigration laws.
Some undocumented immigrants have left sanctuary in other U.S. cities because of Biden’s order. It is unclear whether Vargas and Espinal plan to remain in sanctuary.