The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency issued a $497,777 fine to Edith Espinal, who has been living in a Columbus, Oh., Mennonite church for 21 months after crossing into the U.S. illegally more than two decades ago, the New York Times reports. “We don’t have this amount of money,” said Espinal, 42. She was among several undocumented immigrants in houses of worship who this week received similar notices, the latest Trump administration measure in its crackdown on illegal immigration. Citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, ICE said it has the right to impose civil fines, up to $799 a day, on undocumented 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 spokeswoman Carol Danko.
This week, President Donald Trump said his administration would begin immigration raids after July 4. The batch of letters caught pastors and immigration activists by surprise, as houses of worship have generally been excluded from raids. At St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Tx., Hilda Ramirez Mendez received a notice this week that she was under final order of removal and would be fined $303,620. She has been living at the church with her son, 13, whose special immigrant juvenile status application is pending. Lawyers and activists in seven states 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 U.S., more than 40 immigrants are living in houses of worship, says Church World Services. Some lawyers worried that the fines were part of a Trump administration strategy to target immigrant support systems.