EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials rescinded a major fine for an undocumented immigrant who has taken sanctuary in an Ohio church to avoid deportation.
ICE fined Edith Espinal nearly $500,000.
According to the National Sanctuary Collective, ICE issued a letter saying, “In the exercise of discretion under applicable regulations, ICE hereby withdraws the Notice of Intention to Fine.”
“Not only is this a victory, but a testament to why it is so important that affected community members lead and speak out,” Claudia Muñoz, of the Austin Sanctuary Network, said in a news release. The Network is a member of the National Sanctuary Collective. “These families have put themselves willingly on the front lines of these Administration attacks. They are not only fighting for their own freedom but to protect all immigrant families. These women have drawn a line in the sand, and our hope is that with their bold actions and their voices, they have prevented fines like this from being issued against all undocumented people.”
Six other women who faced similar fines also had them taken away.
Despite this move, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said in a statement to CNN that these women are still breaking the law.
The fines were handed out after an executive order from President Trump last year, instructing ICE to levy fines on migrants in the U.S. unlawfully.
Espinal’s attorney, Lizbeth Mateo, says the fines were merely an attempt to scare the immigrants and punish them for trying to stay in the U.S.
“We knew that these exorbitant fines were illegal and nothing more than a tool to scare our clients and retaliate against them for fighting back and standing up to this administration,” Mateo said. “We know we have strong legal arguments and ICE recognizes that even if they claim that this decision was based only on discretion. But even if that were the case, ICE has demonstrated with this that they have the power to exercise discretion — the same way they can use discretion to drop these fines, they can use it to release the sanctuary families.”
Espinal has been living in sanctuary since October 2017 at the Columbus Mennonite Church in Columbus, Ohio. She said her daughter in September traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials, and she was told that families taking sanctuary were not a priority.
Despite the lack of a clear champion in Congress, the National Sanctuary Collective said sanctuary families and their attorneys worked diligently to fight the fines.
Hilda Ramirez, who has been taking sanctuary with her 11-year-old son Ivan for over two years in Austin, said the congressional offices they have been pleading with should have known “we had the law on our side.”
“For the last three months, our supporters have met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., and they have all made it very clear that people like me and my son Ivan are not a priority for them,” Ramirez said. “I really hope that with this victory, these members of Congress can finally show the same courage we have shown and stand with us. That is all we are asking for: Stand with us and fight with us like real leaders should.”