Castro, Markey and Colleagues Urge President Biden to Protect Immigrants in Sanctuary Churches

Joaquin Castro Congressman for the 20th District of Texas

For immediate release:
January 26th, 2020

Alex Sarabia – – 202-760-0802

WASHINGTON — Today, Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren and over two-dozen House members, sent a letter to President Biden urging swift action to grant relief and protections to immigrant families living in sanctuary churches across the nation. For decades, immigrants have been sheltered and supported by communities of faith as a last resort to avoid deportation. Federal immigration enforcement has a longstanding policy against carrying out arrests in houses of worship. The number of immigrant families living in sanctuary in a house of worship increased dramatically under the Trump administration, and today at least 40 immigrant families currently living in sanctuary churches across the United States. This letter asks President Biden to use the power of the presidency to defend these most vulnerable of immigrants, including by granting stays of removal, lifting deportation orders, and signing private bills of relief for any immigrant family living in sanctuary.

“Across our nation, communities of faith have hosted immigrant families in houses of worship to protect them from deportation and prevent family separations,” said Representative Castro. “With the Biden-Harris administration, these vulnerable families now have a real opportunity for relief and may be able to leave the walls of their sanctuaries for the first time in years. We respectfully urge President Biden to show compassion and mercy to these families, and honor both America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants as well as the advocacy of faith communities.”

“Our houses of worship must also be houses of hope for everyone who finds refuge in them. I am proud to stand in solidarity with the five individuals in Massachusetts, and nearly 40 across our country, who are currently seeking refuge in sanctuary churches. It is long past time to provide dignified and lasting protections to these individuals and families,” said Senator Markey. “I am hopeful that President Biden will help safely open the doors of our sanctuary churches and open the pathway to citizenship for these brave individuals.”

Additional co-signers include: Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives James P. McGovern, Joyce Beatty, Barbara Lee, Veronica Escobar, Jan Schakowsky, Ayanna Pressley, Nydia M. Velázquez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Dwight Evans, Alcee L. Hastings, Lori Trahan, Sheila Jackson Lee, Lloyd Doggett, Sylvia R. Garcia, Mary Gay Scanlon, Mark Pocan, Tony Cárdenas, Albio Sires, Grace F. Napolitano, Ilhan Omar, Raul Grijalva, Debbie Dingell, Joe Neguse, Cori Bush, Ruben Gallego, Brendan F. Boyle, and Rashida Tlaib.

You can read the full letter here and below:

Dear President Biden:

We write to express our support for sanctuary families currently living in houses of worship around the United States. Today there are 40 people living in sanctuary, taking refuge in houses of worship as their only option to be safe from deportation and to keep their families intact. The Obama administration granted many of these people stays of removal, but over the last four years they have been forced into sanctuary as the Trump administration has worked incessantly to deport them or send them to detention centers.

Additionally, throughout the past four years, those in sanctuary have faced targeted retaliation from DHS, including severe fines ranging from $200,000 to almost $500,000; U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) field offices targeting them; and continuous surveillance. We ask you to ensure that your immigration policies are crafted with dignity and respect towards those who live in sanctuary, and that you commit to the following remedial steps:

      1. Directing ICE, by February 12, 2021, to exercise prosecutorial discretion to grant a stay of removal to each person living in sanctuary;
      2. within the first 100 days of your presidency, lifting the deportation orders against all people living in sanctuary; and
      3. signing into law all private bills on behalf of people living in sanctuary that Congress sends to your desk.

Those in sanctuary have suffered enough. Your Administration’s actions can bring them the relief they need and deserve.

Immigrants in sanctuary, along with the faith communities that support them, have been working hard to change our broken immigration system for many years. Those in sanctuary have worked tirelessly with us as Members of Congress, and have sought to meet with your transition team, to highlight the need for immigration reform to include immigrants facing unjust deportation orders. Now is the time to support and honor the brave fight and leadership of people living in sanctuary and their commitment to resist the retaliatory actions of the Trump administration. We look forward to working with you to ensure that immigrants’ rights in the United States are protected.


Press release: Women in Sanctuary File Lawsuit Against ICE to Challenge Retaliatory and Excessive Civil Fines

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Women in Sanctuary File Lawsuit Against ICE to Challenge Retaliatory and Excessive Civil Fines

Joined by Immigrant Rights Groups, Women in Sanctuary Seek to Hold Federal Immigration Officials Accountable Under Religious Freedom Restoration Act, First and Eighth Amendments for Targeting Leaders of Sanctuary Movement

January 19, 2020, New York, NY – Four women living in sanctuary, along with Austin Sanctuary Network (ASN) and Free Migration Project (FMP), filed a lawsuit on Tuesday suing U.S. immigration agencies and officials for targeting sanctuary leaders with retaliatory and excessive civil fines.

Each of the plaintiffs is a leader in the modern sanctuary movement. The sanctuary movement originally began in the 1980s as resistance to government oppression. Today, houses of worship across the country are continuing that tradition and have come together in support of immigrant rights, including by offering sanctuary as an act of solidarity to people who would otherwise be deported.

“As people of faith called to love our neighbors, we’ve embraced immigrants who were fleeing violence, much of it caused by failed U.S. military and economic systems,” Austin Sanctuary Network chair Peggy Morton said. “Consequently, we’ve witnessed abject cruelty from U.S. government officials surveilling houses of worship, retaliating against our friends with huge fines and growing unnecessary trauma among loving and courageous human beings who are not a threat to U.S. security.”

The women are bringing claims against ICE and various officials under the First and Eighth Amendments and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The leaders allege that the government’s discriminatory and retaliatory issuance of these exorbitant civil fines infringes upon their rights of free speech, association, and religion, as well as their right to be free from excessive fines. They also allege that the government has violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The decision to take sanctuary is an act of faith. Each of the individual plaintiffs have spoken out about their decision to take sanctuary as an exercise of their religious faith and work closely with the churches that have offered them sanctuary to expose the injustices of federal immigration policies.

In the summer of 2019, ICE targeted high-profile activists in sanctuary—all of whom fled persecution in their countries of origin—with notices stating its intent to seek up to $500,000 in fines from each of them. These notices were abruptly withdrawn, only to be re-issued several months later in 2020 against several individuals. Today, each woman faces the possibility of fines of approximately $60,000.

Records recently obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation have confirmed that these fines are part of a years-long effort by high-level Trump Administration officials and ICE to target sanctuary leaders. The suit argues that these records prove, along with other evidence, that ICE issued these excessive fines to sanctuary movement leaders to stop them from speaking out and participating in the sanctuary movement.

“Fining us for telling the truth is an unfair way to shut us up. I decided to take sanctuary to protect the lives of my daughters, and arriving at my church without knowing anyone was God’s purpose so that I could continue fighting for justice in my case,” said Vicky Chavez, a plaintiff in the new lawsuit and a targeted sanctuary movement leader residing in Salt Lake City, Utah .

Hilda Ramirez, another plaintiff and sanctuary movement leader residing in Austin, Texas, noted that ICE’s fines were particularly shocking in light of the fact that this very agency is preventing the leaders from working to support themselves financially: “ICE knows that I am living in a church, that I don’t have my own income or a way to make my own money. I am forced to rely on the church to meet my family’s basic needs, since I don’t have permission to work. I am also being followed by ICE and they know that I would never have an amount of money that HUGE. I am scared and anxious, and I feel like I am being extorted.”

ICE’s targeting has negatively impacted the leaders’ emotional, mental, and physical health, as well as that of their families. Edith Espinal, plaintiff and movement leader in sanctuary in Columbus, Ohio, recalls, “When I first learned that the Trump administration was trying to levy a fine against me, I immediately felt a chill down my spine and tears began flowing down my cheek. I was scared and angry because I saw it as an attempt by the government to punish me for trying to protect my family. I have lived constantly worried and in fear of what else the government may do against me or my children. But I have sought refuge in my faith and the love and support of my community.”

Free Migration Project and Austin Sanctuary Network, two organizations working in conjunction with sanctuary movement leaders to support the fight for immigrant rights, have had to divert significant resources from other projects to respond to ICE’s actions.

David Bennion, Executive Director of the Free Migration Project says, “It has been our honor to support sanctuary leaders as they continue to stand up for their families and communities despite ICE’s egregious attempts to silence them. We believe that the practice of sanctuary is a sacred defense of basic human rights and an affirmation of the inherent worth of all people regardless of where they were born.”

Among other forms of relief, the plaintiffs are suing for a permanent injunction restraining ICE from selectively enforcing its civil fines policy, damages, and a formal apology for the harm that ICE’s targeting has caused.

“I am asking that ICE publicly recognize and correct their mistakes,” said María Chavalán Sut, plaintiff and movement leader in sanctuary in Charlottesville, Virginia. “It’s important to remember that this retaliation is falling disproportionately on women, many of whom are indigenous, who have already survived unimaginable violence and persecution. These are sacred lands, and when European colonizers came here 500 years ago, these lands had no borders or exclusion of human beings. ICE should not only rescind the fines but also pay us reparations.”

Rafaela Uribe, Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “The sanctuary leaders and families at the helm of this case have lived in uncertainty and fear for too long. These women have been unlawfully targeted by the Trump administration for organizing together to demand change in our broken immigration system. We hope this case brings them relief and brings attention to the changes needed to our unjust immigration policies that use xenophobic rhetoric to punish immigrant communities.”

“ICE’s civil fines were designed to stop sanctuary leaders from speaking out and are transparently punitive,” said Elena Hodges of the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. “Their targeting of sanctuary leaders is just the most recent chapter of U.S. immigration agencies’ long history of retaliation against the sanctuary movement,” added Katie Matejcak, also of the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.

“Despite ICE’s efforts to silence the sanctuary leaders, the leaders have continued to make their voices heard. The sanctuary leaders’ efforts have helped inspire many faith communities and others to become part of the movement for immigrant rights. ICE cannot stop the sanctuary movement, and the sanctuary leaders are taking this action as another step toward accountability and justice,” said Dinesh McCoy, a legal fellow at Just Futures Law.

To learn more about the case and read today’s filing, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.


For more information about the plaintiff organizations, please visit:



Mujeres Inmigrantes en Santuario Presentan Demanda Contra ICE En Oposición a Multas Abusivas Solicitadas en Represalia Contra Ellas

Acompañadas por Grupos de Derechos de Inmigrantes, Mujeres en Santuario Exigen que Oficiales Federales Migratorios Asumen Responsabilidad Por Dirigir estas Multas contra Las Líderes del Movimiento de Santuario

19 enero 2021, New York, N.Y.— Un grupo de mujeres inmigrantes en Santuario, también con Austin Sanctuary Network (ASN), y Free Migration Project (FMP) presentaron una demanda el martes contra agencias migratorias de los Estados Unidos y sus oficiales por dirigir multas excesivas y en represalia contra líderes del movimiento del santuario.

Cada demandante es un líder en el movimiento moderno del santuario. El movimiento del santuario comenzó originalmente en los 1980s y tiene sus raíces en resistencia contra la opresión estatal. Hoy, iglesias a través del país se han unido en la misma tradición para apoyar los derechos de inmigrantes, incluso por medio de ofrecer santuario como acto de solidaridad a personas que de otra manera serían deportados.

“Como gente de fe estamos llamados a amar al prójimo. Hemos recibido con los brazos abiertos a inmigrantes que están huyendo violencia, violencia que en muchos instantes ha sido causada por las fuerzas armadas de los Estados Unidos y nuestro sistema económico,” dice Peggy Morton líder de el Austin Sanctuary Network. “Por siguiente hemos sidos testigos a la horrible crueldad de oficiales estadounidenses que han participado en la vigilancia de nuestras iglesias, represalia contra nuestras amigas con multas grandísimas, y han contribuido a la creación de trauma innecesariamente en seres humanos que son increíblemente valientes y están llenos de amor y que no demuestran ninguna amenaza a la seguridad de los Estados Unidos.”

El grupo de líderes presentan su demanda contra ICE y varios oficiales bajo el Primer y Octavo Enmienda y la Ley de Restauración de la Libertad Religiosa [Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)]. Las líderes alegan que la manera discriminatoria y vengativa en la cual el gobierno promulgó estas multas infringe en sus derechos de libertad de expresión, asociación, religión, y sus derechos de estar libre de multas excesivas. También alegan que el gobierno ha violado la Ley de Restauración de la Libertad Religiosa. La decisión de tomar santuario es un acto de fe. Todas las demandantes han expresado públicamente su decisión de buscar santuario como un ejercicio de sus creencias religiosas y están trabajando de cerca con las iglesias que le han ofrecido santuario para desenmascarar las injusticias del sistema inmigratorio.

En el verano del 2019, ICE enfocó sus esfuerzos contra las líderes en santuario que tienen gran visibilidad pública—cada cual había huido de su país de origen por persecución—con avisos declarando su intención de exigir hasta $500,000 en multas. Estos avisos fueron abruptamente retirados, solo para ser renovados meses después en el 2020 contra varias individuales. Hoy, cada mujer enfrenta multas de aproximadamente $60,000.

Documentos recientemente recibidos por una demanda hecha por la Ley de Libertad De Información [Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)] han demostrado que estas multas son parte de un esfuerzo coordinado por muchos años por oficiales de la administración del presidente Trump y ICE para perseguir y acosar las líderes en el movimiento santuario. La demanda argumenta que estos documentos junto con otra evidencia muestra que ICE decidió ponerle estas multas excesivas en represalia por su activismo e intimidarlas para que no continúen su participación en el movimiento de santuario. “Ponernos esas multas por decir la verdad es injusto y una manera de callarnos. Yo decidí buscar santuario para proteger las vidas de mis hijas. Llegar a la iglesia sin conocer a nadie fue la voluntad de Dios para que yo pudiera continuar peleando para justicia en mi caso,” dice Vicky Chávez, una demandante en la nueva demanda y una de las líderes perseguidas que vive en Salt Lake City, Utah.

Hilda Ramírez, también una demandante y líder en el movimiento en Austin, Texas, notó que las multas de ICE fueron particularmente chocantes considerando que es ICE la misma agencia que impide que las líderes trabajen y puedan mantenerse. “ICE sabe que vivo en una iglesia, y que no tengo manera de ganar mi propio ingreso u otra manera de ganar mi propio dinero. Yo estoy forzada a depender de la iglesia para cumplir con las necesidades básicas de mi familia, ya que no tengo permiso de trabajar. También estoy siendo perseguida por ICE y ellos saben que nunca tendría una cantidad de dinero tan GRANDE. Estoy asustada y ansiosa, y siento que es extorsión.”

La persecución de ICE ha impactado la salud emocional, mental, y física de las líderes y de sus familias. Edith Espinal, demandante y líder en el movimiento está en santuario en Columbus, Ohio, recuerda, “Cuando yo primero aprendí que la administración de Trump estaba tratando de poner una multa contra mí, inmediatamente sentí escalofríos y comencé a llorar. Tenía tanto miedo y coraje porque vi esa acción como un esfuerzo del gobierno por castigarme por tratar de proteger a mi familia. He vivido constantemente preocupada y con miedo de que más el gobierno pueda hacer contra mi o mis hijos. Pero he encontrado refugio en mi fe y el amor y apoyo de mi comunidad.”

Free Migration Project y Austin Sanctuary Network, dos de las organizaciones que trabajan con las líderes del movimiento santuario apoyando la lucha por los derechos de los inmigrantes, han tenido que desviar gran cantidad de sus recursos de otros proyectos para poder responder a las acciones de ICE.

David Bennion, Director Ejecutivo de Free Migration Project dice, “Ha sido nuestro honor apoyar a las líderes de santuario mientras continúan su lucha defendiendo sus familias y comunidades a pesar de las acciones despreciables de ICE. Creemos que buscar santuario es una defensa sagrada de los derechos humanos fundamentales y una confirmación del valor inherente de todo ser humano sin tener en cuenta dónde nació.”

Entre otras formas de reparación, las demandantes hacen su demanda para obtener un requerimiento permanente que ICE no pueda selectivamente aplicar sus reglas de multas civiles, daños y perjuicios, y una disculpa formal por el daño que la persecución de ICE le ha causado.

“Yo estoy pidiendo que ICE reconozca públicamente y corrijan su error. Es importante recordar que esta represalia está cayendo desproporcionadamente sobre mujeres, muchas que son indígena, y que ya han sobrevivido inimaginable violencia y persecución. Estas son tierras sagradas, y cuando los colonizadores europeos llegaron aquí hace casi 500 años atrás estas tierras no tenían fronteras ni exclusión de seres humanos. ICE no solo debe de rescindir estas multas si no también pagarnos reparaciones,” dice María Chavalán Sut, una demandante y líder en el movimiento santuario que vive en Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rafaela Uribe, Bertha Justice Fellow en The Center for Constitutional Rights, dice “Las líderes y familias al frente de esta demanda han vivido con incertidumbre y temor por demasiado tiempo. La administración del presidente Trump se ha enfocado en su persecución de las líderes porque ellas se han organizado juntas y han denunciado las reglas injustas de nuestro sistema inmigratorio. Esperamos que esta demanda resulte en reparaciones para las líderes y también que traiga atención a las reglas de inmigración injustas que usan retórica xenofóbica para castigar comunidades de inmigrantes.”

“Las multas civiles de ICE fueron diseñadas para callar a las líderes y son transparentemente punitivas,” dice Elena Hodges de NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. “Su enfoco en las líderes de santuario es solo el capítulo más reciente en la larga historia de agencias estadounidenses tomando acciones en represalia contra líderes del movimiento santuario,” agrega Katie Matejcak, otra estudiante parte de NYU’s Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.

“A pesar de los esfuerzos de ICE de callar a las líderes de santuario, ellas han continuado con su activismo. Los esfuerzos de las líderes del movimiento santuario han inspirado a muchas comunidades religiosas y otros grupos a hacerse parte del movimiento por los derechos de los inmigrantes. ICE no puede parar el movimiento santuario, y las líderes han hecho esta demanda como otro paso hacia la justicia,” dice Dinesh McCoy, Legal Fellow de Just Futures Law.

Para aprender más sobre el caso y la demanda presentada hoy, visite la página de internet de Center for Constitutional Rights.

Para más información sobre las organizaciones demandantes por favor visite las páginas:

Carrie Newcomer Benefit Concert

Happy 2021! Carrie Newcomer, who has hosted benefit concerts for ASN in the past, is having an online streaming concert on Saturday January 30th 7pm (8pm ET) and Austin Sanctuary Network will receive 30% of ticket sales that come through THIS LINK specifically:
Please invite your friends and family and join us for another evening of Carrie’s soulful and inspiring music – since it’ll be streaming online, they can tune in from anywhere so cast the net far and wide for anyone who you think would come and support Hilda, Ivan and Alirio!
Here is a Facebook event as well: