Immigration and Sanctuary in Columbus, OH

First English Lutheran Church is currently operating as a sanctuary and houses Miriam Vargas, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras who faces the daily threat of deportation. My presentation focuses on the reality that many undocumented immigrants from Central America face upon arriving in the United States. Aggressive media attention has bombarded many of us with streams of politicized statistics and stories meant to criminalize and ‘other’ the experiences of immigrants from Central America. It’s important to refrain from dehumanizing this group of people and recognize that the issues associated with immigration have a direct impact on our community.

As of 2017, there are over 3.5 million immigrants from Central America living in the US (O’Conner).  Approximately half of them arrived before the year 2000 and have made the United States their home by working, building families, and becoming our neighbors. One-fifth of that population immigrated from the country of Honduras. 

Honduras is notorious for being one of the most dangerous places to live in the world. Two-thirds of the nation’s population of over 9 million live in poverty, with one-fifth of the population living in extreme poverty. As a result, gangs and violence dominate the minimal influence of law enforcement, making gender-based violence the second-leading cause of death for women that have reached reproductive age (Sobecki). Emergency contraception and abortions are strictly banned from the country, leaving rape victims to face one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America. 

Vargas has sought sanctuary in order to remain with her two daughters. Her youngest daughter is on the spectrum and remaining in the United States offers many opportunities for her that would not exist in Honduras. However, after receiving her deportation orders in June 2018, Miriam has lived within the walls of First English Lutheran Church ever since. Currently, ICE officials have honored the instruction of its agents to not take action within places of worship. Hospitals, schools, demonstrations, and churches are all among places where enforcement action is discouraged. However, ICE agents have been known to take action within hospitals and schools in recent years, making First English Lutheran Church the only reliably safe space for Miriam as of now. Miriam and Edith, another woman facing deportation, are currently the only two women that have found sanctuary in Columbus. 

There are currently no legal avenues for undocumented people facing deportation to gain citizenship within the United States. However, the issue of gaining citizenship begins far before people from Latino origins reach our borders. The Diversity Visa program launched in 1990 featured immigration reform bill with many biases. Congressional debates and hearings show that the intention of the bill was to increase the numbers of European immigrants without using discredited national-origins quotas. To accomplish this, 50,000 Diversity Visas are distributed each year in a lottery for countries that are not typically major sources of immigration. People from nineteen different counties, all but three of them coming from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, are ineligible for these special visas. 

I spent last semester working with Miriam and First English Lutheran Church to help spread awareness of immigration policies and Miriam’s story on Capital’s campus. Members of the Latino community have faced criminalization, detention, and deportation when immigrating to the United States. Damaging stereotypes have led to widespread racism towards people that have immigrated here from our southern borders. It’s important to recognize that members of the Latino community are an important part of the Columbus community as they are our neighbors, colleagues, and friends.  

Works Cited

Cumberlander, Robert. “Students Support Church’s Mission to Support Immigration”. The Chimes, https://cuchimes.com/11/2019/students-aid-local-church-in-providing-sanctuary/. Accessed 18 March 2020. 

Fitzgerald, David Scott. “How Legacies of Racism Persist in US Immigration Policy”. Scholars Strategy Network, https://scholars.org/contribution/how-legacies-racism-persist-us-immigration-policy. Accessed 18 March 2020. 

O’Conner, Allison. “Central American Immigrants in the United States”. Immigration Policy Institute, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/central-american-immigrants-united-states. Accessed 18 March 2020. 

Orozco, Jackie. “Mom Lives Inside Columbus Sanctuary As She Fights Deportation”. ABC6, https://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/living-in-sanctuary-as-she-fights-deportation. Accessed 18 March 2020.

Sobecki, Nicole. “Why People Flee Honduras”. Politico Magazine, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/06/07/honduras-why-people-flee-photos-227087. Accessed 18 March 2020. 

“Undocumented Immigrant Mother Marks 2 Years in Asylum”. Youtube, uploaded by NBC4Columbus, 2 October 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl4Zl6Bm8sA.

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