Hours before Tuesday evening's Democratic presidential debate in Westerville, candidate Julian Castro met with Edith Espinal, the Columbus woman who’s been living inside a Clintonville church for two years to avoid deportation.
Speaking at the dais inside the Columbus Mennonite Church, where Espinal lives in sanctuary, Castro said he met with Espinal as part of a challenge to the current administration to "do better."
Castro is a former San Antonio mayor and served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President Obama. He was the first 2020 candidate to release an official immigration plan, which includes breaking up the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.
Castro says ICE has "gone overboard with a toxic culture."
"I would put some of those enforcement functions into the Department of Justice, and separate also Homeland Security investigations, which is part of ICE right now, and revamp the culture of our enforcement," he said.
Activists helping Espinal asked all of the Democratic presidential candidates to meet with her, but as of Tuesday morning only Castro had taken her them on the offer.
Espinal thanked Castro to taking the time to meet with her.
"It's not only my case, but it's more than a million people living in the shadows, and I feel happy that (Castro) came here because he now has power to support us," Espinal said.
The Ohio Republican Party didn’t respond to requests for comment about Castro or Espinal.
Castro's appearance at the Columbus Mennonite Church is just the latest development in a long saga for Espinal.
She was born in Mexico but moved to Columbus in 1995 with her father. She returned to her home country briefly, but came back to Columbus in 2000. Along the way, she got a job and started a family. She has three children—and applied for asylum.
Espinal is from Michoacan, a Mexican state along the Pacific coast, and rising violence in the region helped prompt her asylum claims. However in 2017, immigration authorities rejected her case, so the Mennonite church offered her sanctuary instead.
Earlier this year, Espinal became one of the undocumented immigrants to receive heavy fines by ICE.