Picture of Miriam Vargas and words Citizen Miriam

Community Meeting in Support of Miriam Vargas & Family
Monday, February 10, 2020, 6:30- 8:30 PM
Please join us on Monday, February 10th, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. as we continue the conversation on how we can best support Miriam Vargas and her family. Your support over the past year has been much appreciated and we hope you will join us as we share and make plans for the coming months.  Location:  First English Lutheran Church, 1015 E. Main St., Columbus, OH 43205.  Facebook.  

As I reflect on 2019 I realize that being involved with the Miriam Vargas “Team Miriam” (www.citizenmiriam.org) project at the First English Lutheran Church has been my most personal fulfilling work for the year, perhaps even for the past few years. Over the course of 2019 I lost a friend/mentor, Ruben Castilla Herrera, faced many of my own misconceptions and fears about what society tells me is “normal,” and stood up to authority in a way I might not have imagined a year ago.

The more I listened to Miriam, and others who had come to her aid, the more I felt pulled into the challenges that she faced. My level of involvement led to the revelation that I too was in sanctuary. I, and the rest of Team Miriam are occupants in the church. We are occupying the church for the same reasons as Miriam; We are concerned with the children and their mother. The real motivation of keeping a family together has put all of us in a sanctuary of common feeling for our fellow human beings. We are facing the same risks to a lesser degree - we could be embarrassed, confronted by the law/government, we could be jailed and held without due process.  

Miriam Vargas, a Hondouran citizen without US papers was forced to seek sanctuary in Columbus, Ohio on June 28, 2018. At the kind invitation of the First English Lutheran Church, she found a new home. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordered her to be deported to her country of origin, Honduras. At this point she was faced with an impossible choice of either abandoning her two American-born children, or taking them with her to a country where she faced lack of opportunities to feed her children, gang violence, and perhaps even death.

It was at the request of Ruben Castilla Herrera that he and I went to Miriam’s apartment off of Rome Hilliard Rd and I70 to move all her possessions to the church. A sobering and heart wrenching moment for me was seeing Miriam’s home in disarray and her children quietly occupied with electronic books as she was frantically going through her possessions to prepare for the move.

Under the leadership of Ruben and Pastor Sally Padgett of First English Lutheran, meetings were organized to support Miriam and her family. Public support was encouraging despite the news in the national theater. Everything was going well but then Ruben passed suddenly. His loss was an indescribable blow to Citizen Miriam, as well as to his innumerable friends and family in our community.

In the shock of his passing, myself and everyone else on Team Miriam were promoted to leadership. Arrangements had to be made for food, improvement in accommodations, medical and dental needs, counseling for the family and educational needs and services for Miriam’s children. All of us involved with Team Miriam had to take steps to fill the void and make sure that the family was able to thrive as well as possible.

During 2018-19, news from the border assaults on the migrants, to the drum beat of nativism from Washington DC made us feel helpless and discouraged.  We are subject to decisions made by our national leaders- mainly knee jerk reactions or disappointing non-actions or conservatively pragmatic cautionary tales. After all, there is an election coming up every two years. They don’t want to appear extreme with exception to migrating children on the US border seeking asylum.  Our elected leaders seem to be very shallow on their definition of extreme.

In an AP News article  by Christopher Sherman, Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke, “US Held Record Number of Migrant Children in Custody in 2019”, our government had a record year of children being held in detention, a total of 69,550.  That is more children detained than in any other country according to UN researchers. The article also noted that the US authorities acknowledge that the long term effects of detention to the children physically and emotionally  are known to be detrimental in the extreme.

I wish I could scoop up all of those children in US detention, and take them to their parents, where they would all feel safe.  But I can’t. And that is why Team Miriam has become my sanctuary. A sanctuary of my conscience. We on Team Miriam are not forced to live in the church. We are not being targeted by ICE, or forced to choose between our families or our freedom. But we do stand with those that are- and we at Team Miriam accept the hardships of sanctuary, just has Miriam and her family do. We will work on this project until we walk out of the First English Lutheran Church with Miriam on our pathway to citizenship. That is our goal as we organize in Sanctuary.

Visit us in sanctuary. www.citizenmiriam.org