For immediate release: March 19, 2019
Sulma Franco, email@example.com, 512-573-7683 (Spanish)
Rev. Jim Rigby, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-484-9687 (English)
Maria Reza, email@example.com (English & Spanish)
Denied and retaliated against: Fearing arrest by ICE, asylum seekers Hilda Ramirez and Alirio Gamez re-enter sanctuary in Austin churches
SAN ANTONIO, Tex. — The Austin Sanctuary Network, a coalition of congregations and non-profit organizations that work in solidarity with immigrants, held a rally outside the San Antonio Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office during the time Alirio Gamez and Hilda Ramirez were scheduled for their ICE check-in. Among those in attendance was Ramirez’s 12-year-old son Ivan.
Last week, ICE denied Ramirez and Gamez’s requests for extended deferred action and were expected to appear for their ICE check-in on March 19, a day after their temporary stay expired. As retaliations against migrants who advocate for their rights have alarmingly increased, Ramirez and Gamez believed if they attended this meeting, they would have been apprehended for detention and deportation. Last October, Samuel Oliver-Bruno was detained and deported after appearing for his ICE check-in. Last month, ICE retaliated against Claudio Rojas, the protagonist of The Infiltrators, by detaining him during what was supposed to be normal ICE check-in.
Fearing arrest, Ramirez and Gamez decided to not attend their ICE check-in and instead to re-enter sanctuary in Austin churches. Members of ASN instead used the time of the check-in to send a message to ICE of solidarity to Ramirez and Gamez as well as a commitment to their well being and safety.
“I am not going into sanctuary because I want to hide,” said Gamez. “I am here because there is a large religious community here who are supporting us and I have faith. That’s why I’m here. We know that immigration tries to terrorize the immigrant community, but we are here to continue this fight, not just for us but for all of the immigrants in this country.”
Gamez, who originally fled violence and threats to his life in El Salvador, is suffering from health conditions. While living in sanctuary, undocumented immigrants across the country have experienced severe mental, emotional and physical health consequences common among people in confinement. For Gamez, this includes developing diabetes while in sanctuary, an illness of which his family has no history. Ramirez and her son have experienced compounding trauma and mental health concerns.
Ramirez and Gamez have the support of US Representatives Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett. Prior to their check-in, both of the representatives’ offices contacted ICE field director Daniel Bible to ask him to consider deferred action, but ASN members believe they can do more to support Ramirez and Gamez.
“We will not be afraid to stand up to ICE together. We will not allow for ICE to lie to our Congressmen Castro and Doggett,” said Lynn Cervini, member of the Austin Sanctuary Network. “We will not allow ICE to treat our immigrant friends inhumanely. We will show our congressman what it looks like to stand up to ICE in the hope that they will follow our lead.”
In October 2018, Ramirez and Gamez were determined not to be a priority for deportation and were granted a temporary stay of deportation for five months to allow them to remain in the country. Their status when they were granted the temporary stay has not changed.
Gamez and Ramirez, as well as Ramirez’s son Ivan, have taken sanctuary in two Austin churches for more than a year. Given Daniel Bible’s decision to deny further deferred action on their deportation, they will return to sanctuary and will continue to remain in sanctuary for the foreseeable future.
“We know that the government at a national and at a state level likes to say that Austin is not a sanctuary city, but we decide that,” said Claudia Muñoz, Immigration Programs Director at Grassroots Leadership. “The community decides that. And we say that Austin is a sanctuary city.”
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Austin Sanctuary Network is a coalition of faith communities, immigrants and other community members of civil society and organizations in and around Austin, Texas, that support immigrants fleeing violence or in danger of deportation. See austinsanctuarynetwork.org or follow ASN on Twitter at @SanctuaryAustin.
Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. Follow us @Grassroots_News.