Immigrants in the US - who have been ordered removed, or who have failed to leave the country - have been issued with notices from Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposing civil fines of up to $799 a day.
Edith Espinal spends her days praying, reading and, when feeling brave, taking short accompanied walks outside the Mennonite church in Columbus, Ohio, where she has been living for 21 months.
Church leaders have been protecting Espinal, who crossed illegally into the United States more than two decades ago, while she fights a deportation order.
But earlier this week, the church secretary handed Espinal a letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that said she had “willfully” refused to leave the country, had “connived or conspired” to prevent her deportation, and would owe the government nearly half a million dollars.
“We don’t have this amount of money,” Espinal, 42, said Wednesday of the $497,777 bill. “I never imagined they’d send it to us.”
Espinal was among several unauthorised immigrants living in houses of worship who this week received similar notices, the latest measure taken by the Trump administration in its crackdown on illegal immigration.
Citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, ICE officials said the agency has the right to impose civil fines, up to $799 a day, on immigrants who have been ordered removed, or who have failed to leave the country.
“ICE is committed to using various enforcement methods — including arrest; detention; technological monitoring; and financial penalties — to enforce U.S. immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges,” said Carol Danko, an agency spokeswoman.
This week’s batch of letters caught pastors and immigration activists by surprise, as houses of worship, like hospitals and schools, have generally been excluded from raids.
The immigrants have 30 days to respond to the ICE letters. Lawyers and activists in about seven states said they were scrambling to collaborate on a coordinated response and were working to confirm how many other migrants living in houses of worship had received notices.
Across the country, more than 40 immigrants are living in houses of worship, according to Church World Service, an organization that tracks the cases.
By Elizabeth Diaz © 2019 The New York Times