Sanctuary developments

After a long stretch in survival mode, a change of administration has brought rapid developments in Edith’s case.  The Biden administration has chosen to elevate immigration concerns as an early priority.  They will pursue comprehensive reform, and the 100 day moratorium on deportations – despite the temporary injunction by a federal judge – is a welcome opening move.

All this is good news, nearly whiplash-inducing from the direction of the previous administration.  Is this really happening?  Yes, and…maybe.

One of Edith’s lifelines has been the National Sanctuary Collective.  It includes 14 people (and their families) living in sanctuary churches – including another woman from Columbus (Miriam Vargas), and another woman living in a Mennonite Church (Carmela Apolonio Hernandez at Germantown Mennonite Church, PA).  As a Collective, they are pursuing two related strategies.  One is a newly released letter addressed to the Biden administration calling for specific avenues of relief for those in sanctuary.  An initial 30 members of Congress signed on, including Joyce Beatty. 

The second strategy is having each sanctuary leader apply for a personal stay of deportation at their local ICE office.  That’s what we were up to yesterday after our attempt last week unknowingly coincided with ICE moving their offices to Westerville.  These personal stays would provide more stability than the 100 day period.  They also send a message of the urgency of their cases. 

So far we’ve had strong support from city leaders.  City Council President Shannon Hardin’s office initiated contact with us before the inauguration, and Hardin showed up last week to advocate for Edith and Miriam.  Councilmember Emmanuel Remy was with us yesterday when we submitted the stays.  They both have been in touch with the offices of Beatty and Senator Sherrod Brown.

ICE knew to expect us yesterday and Remy, a representative of Miriam’s support team, and I were invited into the ICE office to speak with Assistant Field Office Director Chris LaBier.  His opening remarks were that he planned to accept the applications but would likely officially deny the requests.  What proceeded was a conversation addressing our two biggest concerns.  1) Will Edith and Miriam be safe from detention and deportation during these 100 days if they leave the churches? and 2) Because Edith and Miriam have immediate needs related to care of family and mental health, ICE should strongly consider approving the stay applications for humanitarian purposes.  It was a human-to-human argument that might not carry much weight in the bureaucratic and cruel world of immigration enforcement, but there were moments in the conversation when we were all humanized in meaningful ways.  ICE does have the power to grant them the stays, and ICE is composed of people, and we were able to talk with a person within ICE with some power. 

It would be a jubilation if the stays were granted, but it might not happen.  

We did receive assurance that Edith would not be considered a priority for ICE in these 100 days – agents will not be going to the church or her home.  Whether Edith decides to leave the church is up to her and her attorney, but if she does I’m pretty certain we’ll make a big deal of it.  Public support has been a protective shield around Edith from the beginning.      

One of the metaphors I’m hoping for is the way a tree draws its energy down into ground during the cold days of winter when daylight is scarce.  What looks barren to the untrained eye is a proven survival mechanism to preserve, conserve, and prepare.  And when the time is right leaves and fruit appear.  We are believing that the time is right, and praying that the difficult labor of these years will produce the fruit of security and bounty for Edith and her family. 

Thank you for your prayers, your financial contributions, for showing up at events, for making calls to elected officials, for telling your children about Edith, for being sanctuary people. 

Stay tuned….