PRESS RELEASE: ICE Withdraws Exorbitant Fines Imposed on Some Women Living in Sanctuary Across the Country

The fines ranging from $300,000 to $500,000 were withdrawn earlier this week

Contact: Austin Sanctuary Network​

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NATIONAL — Almost four months after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) first issued notice of fines ranging between $300,000 – $500,000 to seven women living in sanctuary in churches across the country, ICE has withdrawn the fines. In a letter sent to the families, ICE stated “following consideration of matters you forwarded for ICE review, and in the exercise of discretion under applicable regulations, ICE hereby withdraws the Notice of Intention to Fine.”

“This is not just a victory for the National Sanctuary Collective, but it’s also a testament as to why it’s so important that affected community members lead and speak out. These families have put themselves willingly on the front lines of this administration’s attacks. They are not only fighting for their own freedom but to protect all immigrant families,” said Claudia Muñoz of the Grassroots Leadership, a member of the National Sanctuary Collective. “These women have drawn a line in the sand, and our hope is that with their bold actions and their voices, they have prevented fines like this from being issued against all undocumented people.”

“We knew that these exorbitant fines were illegal and were nothing more than a tool to scare our clients and retaliate against them for fighting back and standing up to this administration.” said Lizbeth Mateo, attorney for a sanctuary mother from Ohio. “We know we have strong legal arguments and ICE recognizes that, even if they claim that this decision was based only on discretion. But even if that were the case, ICE has demonstrated with this that they have the power to exercise discretion—the same way they can use discretion to drop these fines, they can use it to release the sanctuary families.”

“This is an example of what speaking out and organizing can accomplish,” said Edith Espinal, who has been living in Sanctuary in Columbus, OH since October 2017. “We have been begging Senator Brown and others to fight with us, but so far he has refused to stand on the side of justice. It’s heartbreaking to see our elected officials, people like Senator Brown and other Democratic leaders, ignore our pleas. When my daughter traveled to Washington, DC in September to meet with elected officials, she was told that families in Sanctuary were not a priority.”

Despite the lack of a clear champion in Congress, Sanctuary families and their attorneys worked diligently to fight against these illegal and exorbitant fines. “Although this is a great legal victory, it was the leadership of those in sanctuary that made this possible. As attorneys, we can and will always fight back against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, but this victory would not have happened without the leaders showing so much courage and determination.” said Barbara Hines, former director of the UT Law School Immigration Clinic.

“If any of the Congressional offices we have been pleading with had done any research, they would have known that we had the law on our side,” said Hilda Ramirez, who has been living in sanctuary in Austin, TX with her 13-year old son Ivan, for over two years. “For the last three months, our supporters have met with members of Congress in Washington, DC and they have all made it very clear that people like me and my son Ivan are not a priority for them. I really hope that with this victory, these members of Congress can finally show the same courage we have shown and stand with us. That is all we are asking for—stand with us and fight with us, like real leaders should.”


The National Sanctuary Collective is comprised of immigrants in sanctuary, immigrant organizers, attorneys, and allies in faith communities spanning seven states—Texas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Virginia.


PRESS RELEASE: Rep. Castro Introduces Private Bill for Austin Sanctuary Leaders

For Immediate Release

For more information, please contact:
Claudia Muñoz,, (512) 499-8111
Peggy Morton,, (512) 751-6415
Lynn Cervini,, (512) 799-2993

Rep. Castro Introduces Private Bill for Austin Sanctuary Leaders

Austin, TX– Rep. Joaquin Castro took the rare step of introducing private immigration legislation for Hilda, Ivan and Alirio Thursday, Sept. 26. “We are overjoyed that the Member of Congress followed in our leadership and took this step,” says Hilda Ramirez, a mother who has lived with her son, Ivan, for 4-years now at an Austin church. “We are going to now ask other Members of Congress to do the same. Those of us living in Sanctuary need someone to fight for us. We need champions.”

The introduction of this bill, H.R. 4539, comes on the heels of other similar private bills being introduced around the country. In July, Rep. Lacy Clay (MO) introduced a bill for Alex Garcia and on Sep. 6th, Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH) introduced another for Edith Espinal. Advocates view these bills as especially urgent right now given the recent retaliation against these same Sanctuary leaders by the Trump administration, “We just filed responses to the governments fines,” says Lizbeth Mateo, an attorney with the National Sanctuary Collective. “The government is intentionally attempting to intimidate our families; we need more elected officials standing up and saying this is wrong.”

“For many months we have asked many elected officials to visit us and help us, but so far only Congressman Castro has kept his promise to do everything he can to help my mom and me regain our freedom,” 13-year-old Ivan said, “I am still waiting for him to come visit me here at the church, but I know he is busy right now.” Ivan and his mom have taken sanctuary with an Austin Presbyterian congregation for almost four years, while Gamez has taken sanctuary with a Unitarian Universalist congregation for more than two years.

The Austin Sanctuary Network has been knocking on congressional doors for over a year as members of the National Sanctuary Collective. Peggy Morton, ASN Board Chair, joined the group last week as they visited over 30 offices asking for relief for all immigrants currently living in sanctuary.

“I just returned from a trip to DC. We are very hopeful that Congressman Doggett will be coming around in the next few days with good news.”

“I am very grateful Castro did the private bill,” Alirio said. “This shows that when there is a will, there is a way. We need other members of Congress to do the same because we need all the support we can get as we stand strong while ICE does everything in their power to try to deport us”