In a first-in-Ohio success story, hospitality of Just North United Church of Christ bought time for anonymous woman to appeal her deportation.

For the first time in Columbus, an undocumented immigrant who sought sanctuary in a church has been granted relief from deportation. The woman, who has not revealed her identity and is known only as “Angelica” even to the parishioners who were helping her at Just North United Church of Christ, walked out of the church Thursday after receiving word that she had been granted permission to stay in the U.S. and went home to her family.

She had been living in the church since October 29.

“We are filled with joy to tell this sanctuary success story and encourage other residents and communities of faith to stay strong in hope and to pursue justice for their neighbors,” the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of the church, said in a statement. “While so many today are divided and hurting, we and many others are unified in offering sanctuary as an act of faith and love.”

Angelica, a Mexican immigrant who is married to a U.S. citizen and whose three children are also citizens, has been living in the U.S. for 20 years, according to her attorney, Inna Simakovsky. She sought sanctuary last fall after her application for a U Visa, filed years earlier, was denied. The U visa, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services, is for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and who are cooperating with law enforcement. It was created in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Its purpose is to enable those with undocumented status to cooperate with authorities in prosecuting crimes. 

According to an article in The Columbus Dispatch today, the woman and her husband were robbed at gunpoint in their suburban Columbus home in 2013.

Around the time Angelica moved into the church, Simakovsky filed an appeal concerning the denial of her visa. Earlier this week, the appeal was sustained and Simakovsky received Angelica’s visa, which carries with it a path to citizenship. The U Visa will remain in effect for 4 years; after three years, Angelica can apply for a green card, and five years after that can apply for citizenship.

Simakovsky said she knew Angelica had a promising case for a visa but didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. “I was surprised,” she said. “Pleasantly surprised, joyfully surprised.”

Simakovsky said that Angelica’s desire for privacy dictated a different approach from that taken by two other women in sanctuary in Columbus churches, Edith Espinal, the subject of an April 2018 profile in Columbus Monthly, and Miriam Vargas, both of whom have sought publicity to build support for their cases. Both women, who also have U.S. citizen children, have applied for asylum based on situations in their countries of origin. Vargas, who comes from Honduras, has been in sanctuary in First English Lutheran Church for nearly seven months; Espinal, from Mexico, has been living at Columbus Mennonite Church more than 15 months.

At Just North United Church of Christ, Angelica lived in hiding for three months before any coverage of her case appeared in the news. The Columbus Dispatch published a story about her case last week, prior to the arrival of her visa.

“The church was amazing,” says Simakovsky. “We respected her approach; we were all on the same page, and no one broke her trust.”

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