Immigrants have been coming to the U.S. border to escape life-threatening circumstances. They are seeking a life where they, and sometimes their families, can be safe and have a hopeful future. In accordance with international law, immigrants must cross the border to request asylum. Our government’s response is to hold these individuals in for-profit prisons. Many people, including children, are being held in detention while their asylum status is reviewed, despite court rulings that state it is not humane to hold children in these facilities.
The ASN was formed in 2015 to provide sanctuary and support for immigrants and asylum seekers who had escaped dangerous and deadly conditions in their countries of origin and who did not want to be deported into those same conditions. A queer Guatemalan woman sought Sanctuary in 2015 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin and won a stay of deportation after a two and a half month campaign. Next, an indigenous Guatemalan mother and her son took Sanctuary at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. They won a one-year deferred action after an 8 month sanctuary campaign.
Sanctuary is based on the longstanding tradition of providing immigrants with safe haven in places of worship without fear of seizure. In the cases of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants in the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has honored this tradition to date.
Late in 2016 ICE started aggressively pursuing undocumented immigrants in and around Austin using techniques that violated human rights and common decency. In response, the ASN decided to broaden its scope to assure the human rights of undocumented immigrants were protected, and to reveal their personal stories to the community.