A morning with ICE

Sep 18, 2019 by

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On the morning of Aug. 27, eight of us gathered in a circle in the foyer at Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church and joined hands. We prayed for a successful morning. We prayed for strength and courage and peace. Then seven of us headed out the door and drove to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in LeVeque Tower downtown. Edith Espinal stayed behind.

Edith Espinal’s daughter Stephanie, left, speaks outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices Aug. 27 in Columbus, Ohio. She is joined by Morgan Harper, who is running for Ohio’s 3rd congressional district. — Joel Miller

Edith Espinal’s daughter Stephanie, left, speaks outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices Aug. 27 in Columbus, Ohio. She is joined by Morgan Harper, who is running for Ohio’s 3rd congressional district. — Joel Miller

There were about 50 of us total on the sidewalk outside the building, many holding signs. We were there to support the morning’s mission: to make an official application to ICE for a stay of removal for Espinal, giving her a sanctioned reprieve from sanctuary, enabling her to go home to her family’s apartment with the threat of deportation temporarily lifted.

Asking elected officials to file a stay of removal on her behalf has been the current push that Espinal, her attorney and support team have been working on. Morgan Harper, running for Ohio’s 3rd congressional district (currently held by Joyce Beatty) agreed to accompany Espinal’s daughter Stephanie to submit the application.

Building security was ready for us. Only three people were allowed past the entryway toward the elevators inside the building. The rest of us waited outside. It was a surprisingly long wait. Many of us had expected a brief exchange with the front desk at the ICE office and our small delegation to return within a matter of minutes.

In short, they managed to convince an ICE official to accept the application for the stay of removal, along with the $155 associated fee. This is highly unusual due to ICE’s pattern of requiring the person needing the stay to be there in person to file. For obvious reasons, this makes it (intentionally) impossible for Espinal and others who fear detainment and deportation.

But today was a good day, a small success. Even though we are expecting it to be rejected within the next week, the application was officially accepted, and that opens up some new possibilities for pushing and pulling different levers in the system, amplifying the call for elected officials to lobby ICE to support the stay.

As we approach two years of sanctuary, I am repeatedly encouraged and emboldened by the kind of witness all this puts out into our world. It is easy to feel powerless, but we do have moral power. We have people power, and we have a wide community of folks who have decided to live, in the present, the kind of world they wish to see come about. I think Jesus had a thing or two to say about that.

Let’s continue to pray with our hearts, our mouths, our feet, our conversations, our actions. Courage. Strength. Peace with justice.

Update: The stay application was rejected by ICE the following day. However, later that week Espinal was visited by Congresswoman Joyce Beatty who agreed to submit a private bill to Congress on her behalf, another avenue for a stay. Espinal’s team feels the public action with ICE helped move Beatty to take this action, something the team had been advocating for more than a year. Private bills are one of the strategies folks in sanctuary are using to find a way out of sanctuary. While it remains a long shot to pass, it is a positive development.

Joel Miller is pastor of Columbus Mennonite Church and blogs at Phloem and Xylem, where this post first appeared.


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