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East Columbus Church Offers Sanctuary to Local Mother and Children

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega East Columbus Church Offers Sanctuary to Local Mother and ChildrenPhoto by Lauren Sega.
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It was last summer that Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus City Council declared Ohio’s capital a sanctuary city. Today, as it was announced that a second undocumented immigrant has entered sanctuary, the city is starting to live up to its name.

Miriam Vargas, originally from Honduras, has lived in Columbus for the last 13 years. She fled her home country primarily to escape the threat of gang violence, but also to find work and opportunity, she said at a press conference on Monday morning. Vargas just recently received an order for deportation, which would permanently separate her from her two daughters. She and her children have instead moved into the First English Lutheran Church (FELC) on East Main Street.

“The only thing I’m asking for is to not be separated from my children, my family,” Vargas said. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Though no specifics were offered regarding Vargas’ legal case, Rubén Castilla Herrera, who’s with the Columbus Sanctuary Collective, said she and her team are looking to Representative Joyce Beatty to introduce a private bill granting Vargas citizenship.

The request echoes that of Edith Espinal, who entered sanctuary at Columbus Mennonite Church (CMC) in October of last year. Though Espinal and Beatty connected via phone last month, nothing has yet transpired.

“Let it be heard and let it be known that we expect our Congresswoman to introduce a private bill on [Edith’s] behalf and on Miriam’s behalf as well,” Herrera said. “And I will say at this moment, they’re dragging their feet.”

Vargas is the fifth undocumented immigrant to seek sanctuary in Ohio and the 45th nationwide, indicating a growing sanctuary movement. Clergy with FELC and with the church’s parent organization, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), said immigrant and refugee justice lies at the core of the institution.

In 2016, the ELCA established the Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) program. It’s purpose is to protect the human rights of migrant children and their families; address the root causes of migration in Central America’s Northern Triangle and Mexico; work toward humane policies affecting migrants here in the U.S. and elsewhere; and offer a centralized migration solution for ELCA’s affiliates and partners. It plays on the Spanish word amparo, which means “protection.”

“As leaders in the AMMPARO movement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, we see the broad and harmful impact of migration policies that target families, people seeking safety, and people seeking a better life,” said Katie Miles-Wallace, with AMMPARO. “Churches across the country have responded to this suffering by learning more about the issues, sitting in community with migrants, and joining movements to provide sanctuary to immigrants in our midst.”

FELC Reverend Sally Padgett said the church acted quickly to get Vargas and her children into sanctuary, fulfilling what she described as the “Lord’s call” to welcome the stranger. As they offer support for the Vargas family, the FELC is accepting both monetary and food donations. To contribute, visit here.

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