An immigrant rights advocate and mother of three who has been forced to seek sanctuary in a Church in Ohio for over three years has finally been able to return home without the threat of immediate deportation.
Edith Espinal, 43, who is also a “long-time front-runner fighter for immigrant rights” has been living at the Columbus Mennonite Church since October 2017 to avoid being deported to Mexico.
Now, according to her lawyer, Ms Espinal has been “able to return home safely” following a negotiated order of supervision on Thursday.
In an emotional conference with reporters outside an ICE office in Westerville on Thursday, Ms Espinal celebrated the victory in the presence of her supporters, saying: "Finally, I can go home.”
While her lawyer Lizbeth Mateo also celebrated the win she noted that this was “not the end of her case” adding: “We’re still going to have to fight to make sure that she can finally have her freedom.”
Ms Espinal has been released under an order of supervision, meaning she will not be an immediate priority for deportation but must consistently report to ICE officials.
The order will allow her to move from the sanctuary and live at home with her family while she continues to fight for her case.
“It's a first step, it's a good step, but it's not the permanent solution that we need in her case,” Ms Mateo said.
In 2013, Ms Espinal protested US immigration policies at the US-Mexico border in Nuevo Laredo and was paroled into the United States and placed in removal proceedings, her Facebook page says.
Ms Espinal, who has lived in Columbus for over 20 years, unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the US citing rising violence in her home state of Michoacán eventually was ordered to leave the country, NBC News reported.
She had been previously denied a stay of removal before she entered sanctuary over three years ago because ICE officials told her she was an "enforcement priority,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.
“Her family has been publicly involved in the struggle to pass comprehensive immigration reform on nationwide television” and “on the streets fighting, marching and speaking for immigrant justice,” her Facebook page reads.
Churches are often used as places of refuge for immigrants such as Ms Espinal after former president Donald Trump took office as they are treated as “sensitive locations” under ICE policy, meaning enforcement actions are rarely conducted there.
Supporters say they are hopeful that less targeted immigration policies under President Joe Biden such as directives to focus on people in the country illegally who pose a threat, will help people like Ms Espinal.
“I want to thank everyone for their support. I am so happy to be home. We need to keep fighting, and pushing for my case and for more sanctuary leaders,” Ms Espinal said in a statement following the news.
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