PRESS RELEASE: ICE Threatens Women Living in Sanctuary with Renewed Fines, Criminal Prosecution

For immediate release: December 11, 2019

Contacts: National Sanctuary Collective​ | M:520-243-9777 | ​Lizbeth Mateo, Esq. ​| M: 213-262-2581

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ICE Threatens Women Living in Sanctuary with Renewed Fines, Criminal Prosecution

ICE Escalates Retaliation Against Communities of Faith

NATIONAL — Two months after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rescinded fines ranging between $300,000 – $500,000 against seven women living in Sanctuary in churches across the country, ICE has sent letters threatening renewal of the civil fines and potential criminal prosecution. Until now the only thing preventing ICE from carrying out an enforcement action at a place of worship has been a “sensitive locations” memorandum issued years ago.

“W​e believe the fines will be unconstitutional if issued because they restrict freedom of speech, are egregious and disproportionate, and violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said ​David Bennion, an attorney at Free Migration Project working with some of the Sanctuary leaders. “​The fines and the threat of criminal prosecution are an extreme form of retaliation against people whose lives are in danger if they are deported. This tactic is consistent with the Trump administration’s unlawful campaign to end asylum and deport immigrants of color.”

Despite these new heightened attacks, Sanctuary leaders and the congregations that support them are determined to defend the most sacred pillars of our faith and our shared belief in justice. “For over two years I have seen this administration slowly intensify its efforts to separate me from my children and my community. Receiving a letter threatening me with a fine and with potential criminal charges has been difficult for me and my family, but my deep faith in God and the support of the Mennonite congregation that has welcomed and embraced me keep me from giving in to ICE’s tactics of intimidation” said Edith Espinal.

“ICE has been terrorizing my son and I since we came to this country seeking refuge and safety, and they are now also terrorizing the Presbyterian community of faith that has welcomed and embraced me here in Austin, Texas. My faith has guided and carried me this far, and it will continue to do so as ICE threatens to prosecute me even further. It is telling that ICE decided to send us these threatening letters so close to Christmas. My son and I will continue to be with our community, and ask that other people of faith join us in divine obedience as we stand against this evil attempt to prosecute, imprison, and deport us,” said Hilda Ramirez.

“We at Saint Andrews were saddened to see the letter from ICE threatening our brave friend Hilda Ramirez, who lives in Sanctuary with her son here at our church. The letter was clearly intended to frighten and intimidate this brave woman who fled violence in her native land, but instead of being treated as an asylum seeker, or even as a human being, she has been hounded at every turn by policies that can only be called racist and anti-immigrant. If anything, this letter reinforces our commitment to obey the biblical command to open our doors to those who seek sanctuary from oppression, even if that oppression comes from our own government,” said pastor Jim Rigby.

“For our congregation, the decision to participate in Sanctuary was an embodiment of our faith, to live out the biblical teachings to welcome the stranger, love the neighbor, and keep families together. This administration continues to attack our Christian values, and we will not be intimidated. While Alex has not received a letter yet, we do not stand by and watch others be attacked. We are reminded of what Rev. Martin Niemoller said in his famous words, ‘First they came for …’ about his shame of his own reluctance to take a stand against Nazism in Germany. He learned the hard way: ‘and then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.’ Our faith and commitment are unwavering. We will stand with Alex Garcia and his family, and all other immigrants, against the hatred of this administration because our faith demands it of us,” said Rev. Rebecca Turner, Pastora.

As the National Sanctuary Collective, we will continue to ask for real leadership from our members of Congress to act. We are convinced that there exists the political will to support people like us, and to find a just resolution to our collective situations. When the fines were issued in July, only two Members of Congress stood up for us: Rep. Flores and Rep. Stivers were the only offices to reach out to ICE to find out why they were targeting us and our churches. While other Members have championed our cases – ​Rep. Lacy Clay​, ​Rep. Joyce Beatty​, ​Rep. Joaquin Castro​, ​Rep. Lloyd Doggett​ and former Rep. Robert Brady​ have all introduced private immigration bills – we are convinced that if we are going to succeed in defending ourselves, we need bolder leadership and actions to match ICE’s blatant attacks on our faith.


The National Sanctuary Collective is comprised of immigrants in Sanctuary, immigrant organizers, attorneys, and allies in faith communities.