At 16 years old, Edith Espinal immigrated to the United States from Mexico. While the now 42-year-old has lived in the country for most of her life, she received a deportation order from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement two years ago. Since then, the mother of three has found sanctuary at a Mennonite church in Clintonville, a small neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio.
On Tuesday evening, 12 Democratic candidates will participate in the fourth presidential debate just 20 minutes away from the church. Espinal has encouraged them to visit her.
“I want them to visit me. Like really visit me,” Espinal told ABC.
Though many candidates have expressed support for immigrant communities and their disgust at the separation of families, Espinal said she feels “like this is the time to show us. To show the support.”
On Tuesday morning, Texan presidential hopeful Julián Castro was the first candidate to take her up on that offer.
“I’m standing in solidarity with her—and against the cruel Trump immigration agenda that’s tearing families apart every day,” the Mexican-American candidate tweeted after they met.
Espinal is seldom able to leave the safety of the church, doing so only for short walks in the area.
Her lawyer, Lizbeth Mateo, said Espinal left Mexico to escape violence. “If she is removed, she will go back to a place where she is subject to abuse again; her life will be in danger,” she told The New York Times.
As Castro briefly touches on in his thread, earlier this year, Espinal received notice that she owes the government $497,000. The letter from ICE claims she “connived or conspired” to prevent her deportation after “willfully” refusing to follow the mandate. The clause they’re leaning on to justify the lime-on-wound fine, inhumanely titled “Aliens and Nationality,” is found in the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952.
“Any alien subject to a final order of removal who willfully fails or refuses … shall pay a civil penalty of nor more than $500 to the Commissioner for each day the client is in violation of this section,” the act reads.
That amount has reportedly been raised to $799 due to inflation.
A press conference held in July revealed Espinal has lived in sanctuary longer than anyone else in Ohio.
The one thing she hopes will come from meeting with Castro and other candidates: “To have my freedom.”