PRESS ADVISORY: Sanctuary Leaders Release Documents Showing ICE’s Plan to Roll Out Massive Civil Fines Against Undocumented Immigrants

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PRESS ADVISORY: Sanctuary Leaders Release Documents Showing ICE’s Plan to Roll Out Massive Civil Fines Against Undocumented Immigrants

ICE Documents Obtained Under Freedom of Information Act Show Surveillance and Targeting of Sanctuary Leaders

October 22, 2020, New York – Today, immigrant rights groups released documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit showing high-ranking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials’ plans to roll out massive civil fines against undocumented immigrants. The documents also show ICE using the fines to retaliate against sanctuary movement leaders who had been outspoken about immigrant rights. Nine people taking sanctuary in churches across the U.S., unable to leave their houses of worship for fear of deportation, were targeted. Each leader received a fine of up to $500,000 from ICE.

“When I first entered the U.S. seeking refuge, immigration put me and my son in an ice-cold cell without any blankets, in unsanitary conditions, in the middle of the night. Next, ICE took us to a family detention center, and we survived that and eventually made our way to a church asking for help,” said Guatemalan Hilda Ramirez, who has taken sanctuary with her son in Austin, Texas, since February 2016. “Now we learn ICE was surveilling us to punish me with fines for speaking against the injustices. Finally, it’s coming to light.”

The documents released today detail a policy that was years in the making. The groups also released a briefing guide, providing details and context for each document.

Soon after Donald Trump took office, high-ranking ICE officials – including at least one who is closely connected to the extremist architect of Trump’s immigration policies, Stephen Miller – formed a working group dedicated to using civil fines against immigrants in sanctuary. The group identified a previously unused section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) under which ICE may issue fines of hundreds of dollars per day. In June 2018, ICE created a secret policy memo setting out rules for implementing the civil fines statute and, in 2019, targeted sanctuary leaders with egregious civil fines. By July 2019, the leaders had received fines as high as $500,000 each; all told, the fines surpassed $3 million.

“I am an Indigenous woman. Under a system which denies my fundamental rights, I am a survivor. I remind ICE that they are on stolen, invaded, Indigenous land. I do not owe ICE anything – they are the ones who owe reparations for their injustices,” said María Chavalan Sut, who has lived in sanctuary in Charlottesville, Virginia since October, 2018.

“ICE’s retaliatory attempt to issue fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars against immigrant community leaders living in sanctuary churches violated their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” said David Bennion of Free Migration Project, who is the attorney of one of the targeted sanctuary leaders. “What remains to be seen is whether a potential Biden administration would allow ICE to continue this campaign to silence and punish critics of the Trump administration’s policies.”

Attorneys question the constitutionality of the INA civil fines statute, as well as whether ICE’s implementation was consistent with the statute itself. Invoking these legal issues, a group of the targeted leaders and immigrant rights organizations mobilized in opposition to the fines, and ICE rescinded them in October 2019. However, in February 2020, ICE reissued notices of intent to fine the sanctuary leaders at a lower amount. The targeted sanctuary leaders filed a second legal response opposing the fines, and the matter remains pending. Activists emphasize that the fines constitute retaliation against the sanctuary leaders for their public advocacy and effective leadership of the sanctuary movement.

The documents released today were obtained through a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), the U.S. Department of the Treasury , and the Executive Office for Immigration Review filed in February after the three agencies failed to produce virtually any documents in response to a September 2019 FOIA request.

“These documents show how ICE targeted sanctuary leaders who were outspoken about their cases as a way to intimidate immigrants across the country,” said Katie Matejcak of the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. “ICE’s message to immigrant rights activists is clear: keep quiet or we will try to find a way to silence you,” added Elena Hodges, also of the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.

Austin Sanctuary Network Chair Peggy Morton said, “Sanctuary is an act of nonviolent civil disobedience designed to redefine our relationship to each other in community. As people of faith and no faith we’ve stood behind our values in sheltering sanctuary leaders. Now, it’s time for everyone to join our neighbors in need to dismantle our chains.”

Ian Head, coordinator of the Center for Constitutional Rights Open Records Project said, “While it shouldn’t have taken a court order to obtain these records, they show the continued, vital importance of the Freedom of Information Act as a conduit for government transparency, especially when it comes to agencies such as ICE.”

Read the documents released today and the accompanying briefing guide here. For more information on the case, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

For more information about the organizations involved, please visit:

https://austinsanctuarynetwork.org

https://freemigrationproject.org

https://grassrootsleadership.org

https://ccrjustice.org

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PRESS ADVISORY: Immigrant Leaders Who’ve Lived in Lockdown Throughout Trump Administration See Ray of Hope with New Commitments, Potential New Administration

Austin Sanctuary Network logo

After living in sanctuary congregations for too many years, immigrants leaders are ensuring their cases are included in Democrats’ promises for a humane immigration system.

For immediate release:
August 17, 2020

Contact:
Carmen Zuvieta, carmendezuvieta40@gmail.com, (512) 773-4508
Solveij Rosa Praxis, solveijp@gmail.com (619) 636-4551

(AUSTIN, Texas) – Democratic leaders voted to approve the Democratic Party Platform, and immigrant leaders in sanctuary are celebrating a major milestone in their fight for freedom. Hilda Ramirez and her son Ivan and Alirio Gamez, alongside other sanctuary leaders across the country inspired a critical section of the Democratic Party Platform that would defend immigrants with deportation orders like them.

Throughout the Trump administration, a national movement of immigrant leaders have organized community-based resistance to their deportations from the confines of sanctuary churches. Living in lockdown inside houses of worship, immigrant leaders courageously took sanctuary because they face death or separation from their family members if deported, and have little to no legal recourse for legal status within a broken immigration system. These sanctuary leaders represent immigrants with deportation orders across the country who have been failed by an unjust, inhumane immigration system that provides no relief in cases of humanitarian crises.

The Democratic Party finalized its Platform to include commitments to immigrant communities across the country in the section titled “Creating a 21st Century Immigration System.” It was amended to include language that re-opens the use of prosecutorial discretion, an enforcement tool that historically was available for cases representing humanitarian crises to grant relief from deportation. Prosecutorial discretion is a unique and powerful tool for cases that have met the end of the road with little to no options in the broken system and only have discretion as a way out.

Due to the Trump-era attack on prosecutorial discretion, in which the Trump administration specifically directed ICE not to use discretion as part of its zero-tolerance agenda, immigrant leaders in sanctuary have suffered for years, trapped in sanctuary congregations to survive and stay with their families. An action of last-resort, advocates see sanctuary as a different type of detention found to cause the same mental and physical health consequences as solitary confinement. This victory represents a path to liberation and survival for immigrant leaders in sanctuary across the country who had no options for relief prior to the inclusion of this amendment. Immigrant leaders like Hilda Ivan and Alirio have fought for their survival throughout the Trump administration, from the confines of sanctuary in Austin churches. Alirio, who would be murdered if deported said, “I am so moved, that there are people [Democratic leaders] who want to fight to liberate us. It gives me so much more hope that I’ll live.” Reflecting on including this tool for their freedom making it into the Democratic Party Platform, Hilda said, “It’s like you’re in a long, dark tunnel, and far at the end you begin to see a little ray of light, and we’re heading down that tunnel following that light.”

Sanctuary leaders have been meeting with Democrats across the country who have become vocal advocates for the issue at the DNC. The statement in support of the amendment was endorsed by over 200 Democrats from all over the country, including National Delegates and approximately 25 elected officials, representing Democratic unity on this immigration issue. Sanctuary leaders look forward to continuing conversations with members of Congress and the Joe Biden – Kamala Harris campaign.

Now part of the “Creating a 21st Century Immigration System” section of the National Democratic Party Platform, the amendment reads: “We will reaffirm enforcement officials’ ability to engage in the pre-Trump practice of prosecutorial discretion” opening a path toward freedom for many of the leaders in Sanctuary across the country. The amendment also promises protection for the sanctuary leaders and other immigrants involved in activism “from [ICE] retaliating against individuals for their political speech or activity, or because of their efforts to advocate for individual rights.” They have shone a light on the failures of one of the most anti-immigrant administrations in history and have been targeted and threatened by ICE for their activism. One sanctuary leader, Samuel Oliver-Bruno, was taken from his family and deported at what immigration officials had promised would be a routine check-in. Many more have been threatened with fines of up to half a million dollars by ICE.

This amendment also gives Congressional Representatives new tools to support immigrant leaders, such as stays of removals and private bills. For years, sanctuary leaders have been fighting for these very tools to be used to grant relief for sanctuary leaders across the country. The cases of sanctuary leaders inspired this commitment to reaffirm prosecutorial discretion and related tools, and they represent thousands of similar cases that fall through the cracks of a broken system. All of these are clear cases for the use of prosecutorial discretion, given their deep community support and humanitarian stakes. They are people like Hilda and her son Ivan Ramirez, Alirio Gamez, Maria Chavalan Sut or Rosa Gutierrez, or Abbie Arevalo who will be killed if deported back to the respective Central American countries they fled. They are also like Carmela Apolonio Hernandez, Juana Tobar, Alex Garcia and Vicky Chavez who would be separated from their children. Immigrant leaders in sanctuary and their advocates are hopeful that prosecutorial discretion will be used for their cases to reaffirm the existence of discretion and set a new tone for the immigration system with a new administration. It would also signal a commitment to the broader immigrant community that has experienced the impacts of an inhumane, dysfunctional system and have not been included in comprehensive immigration reform in the past.

Support Alirio, Hilda and Ivan in Sanctuary

Alirio and Hilda are still in Sanctuary, but there are ways you can support them even during this time of global pandemic.

Sign a Petition

Image of a church sanctuary

For delivery to: Rep. Jackson Lee, Rep. Hurd, Rep. Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Roger Williams

I am writing to urge you to take immediate action to ensure an emergency, temporary Stay is granted for both Alirio and Hilda and her son, Ivan. It is near impossible for them to take proper precautions and prepare for the pandemic with the threat of active ICE enforcement looming.

We believe it is possible to still protect the First Amendment freedom of religion, while at the very same time protecting the health and safety of everybody in Texas. Given the recent developments around this national health emergency, we believe common sense dictates lifting the threat of deportation against vulnerable immigrants like Hilda, Ivan and Alirio.

Hilda, and her 14 year-old son Ivan have now lived in a Sanctuary church for over 1,400 days. Alirio has lived in a different Austin church for over 900 days now. Both are fearful of leaving Sanctuary, knowing it would mean deportation and instant-death in their home countries. Given that both have open immigration applications pending, we believe it makes sense to grant a temporary Stay during this pandemic.

Given the current crisis it is extremely difficult for the community to get action on this request. I am begging your office to please prioritize this situation, and help us find a way to convince ICE to grant a temporary Stay for Hilda and Ivan, and Alirio. What do we expect these families to do if they are in need of urgent medical care?

Sponsor a Mask

Image of a handmade protective mask

Please consider making a donation to support Alirio and Hilda as they make masks to support those in need. This is something very personal to both of them. Alirio suffers from medical issues that would make him extremely vulnerable to this virus, so he wants to ensure those who are on the front lines are protected. He intends to donate his masks to the Austin State Supported Living Center. The church Hilda has been living at, for over 1,500 days now, has an active program that feeds the homeless and Hilda wants to ensure this community has masks to protect themselves.

Donations are needed for supplies to make the masks, and any additional funds will be used by Hilda and Alirio for their continuing work to stop their own deportations.

The Fear – and Hope – of Living in Sanctuary

This article highlights the mental distress that immigrants living in sanctuary experience and depicts Hilda’s experience in her home country and the Karnes Detention Center.

Hilda Ramirez is an asylum-seeker from Guatemala who came to the United States in 2014 after fleeing domestic violence. Ramirez and her son, Ivan, now 13, were detained for 11 months in ICE’s Karnes County Residential Center in South Texas. After their release in July 2015, they lived in a shelter in Austin for a couple of months, during which time Ramirez wore an ankle bracelet and had regular check-ins with ICE. Because an immigration judge denied her asylum case, Ramirez has a pending deportation order.

In February 2016, fearing immigration raids, she decided to seek protection by moving into the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin (it is against ICE’s policy to enforce immigration laws inside churches). Ramirez was previously granted deferred action, a temporary delay of deportation, but in March of this year, ICE denied her an extension. Recently, Congressman Joaquin Castro showed his support for Ramirez and Ivan by introducing a private bill to give them permanent status or a visa. Ramirez and Ivan are among 50 undocumented immigrants nationwide publicly known to be living in sanctuary. The church has been their home for almost four years. As told to Isabela Dias.

Click here to read the full article

 

PRESS ADVISORY: National sanctuary leaders call Austin community to Rise Up as Hilda, Ivan and Alirio lead the local fight for their freedom

For Immediate Release: January 28th, 2020

Media Contacts:
Jessica Duran, jessica@austinsanctuarynetwork.org, 956 622-2736
Peggy Morton, peggy@austinsanctuarynetwork.org, 512 751-6415

*PRESS ADVISORY*
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 29th at 10:00AM

National sanctuary leaders call Austin community to Rise Up as Hilda, Ivan and Alirio lead the local fight for their freedom

What: Rise Up Press Conference
When: Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 10 a.m.
Where: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church 14311 Wells Port Dr. Austin, 78728

Austin Sanctuary Network members gathered with the National Sanctuary Collective in St. Louis, Mo. in January to organize with others taking sanctuary throughout the country. Clergy, advocates, attorneys and sanctuary leaders discussed different collective national actions that could be taken to move politicians to rise up and act.

“It was a rare opportunity for me to speak with my friends across the nation working on the issue of sanctuary at the same time,” said Hilda Ramirez, who has taken sanctuary for almost four years in Austin. “What is very clear to those of us living in sanctuary is we need to be the ones in the forefront holding people accountable to their promises. We’re very much strengthened by the diverse interfaith connections from all around the country. That’s what gives us power, and we know we’re doing the right thing.”

Over the last year ASN has hosted seven press conferences, sent four delegations to DC for repeated congressional visits to advocate for families taking sanctuary across the nation. Locally, over 3000 people have signed ASN petitions, made phone calls, visited local political offices and collected signatures from clergy across the U.S. calling for action. ASN has moved Congressman Joaquin Castro and Congressman Lloyd Doggett to file private bills on behalf of Hilda, Ivan and Alirio, but none of the private bills introduced across the nation have been moved forward.

“As a member of the coordinating committee of the National Sanctuary Collective, I have personally scheduled more than 50 appointments with Democratic members of Congress asking them to schedule a hearing about ICE’s retaliation against seven women in sanctuary,” said Lynn Cervini, a member of St. Andrew’s. “Not one hearing has been scheduled. It’s become crystal clear that they do not consider sanctuary families a priority.”

Democratic leaders have said they would go to churches across the nation to visit immigrants who have taken sanctuary, but they haven’t. “We’re simply asking representatives and senators to take a genuine interest in the plight of these families. We want them to meet with our friends in sanctuary, shake their hands and get to know them,” Lynn said.

At the press conference, attendees will learn how to Rise Up and Act to make our political leaders accountable.

Austin Sanctuary Network is a coalition of 27 congregations and social justice non-profit groups that work to stop unjust deportations in the Austin Area. Find us at www.austinsanctuarynetwork.org

PRESS ADVISORY: Faith Leaders stand with Hilda Ramirez as ICE threatens her with deportation, steep fines, and criminal prosecution

For immediate release​: December 16, 2019
Contact​:
– Jessica Duran, ​jessica@austinsanctuarynetwork.org​, ​(956) 622-2736​
– Claudia Munoz, ​cmunoz@grassrootsleadership.org​, (512) 910-1759

*PRESS ADVISORY*
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17TH @ 7:30AM CT

ASN press advisory PDF

Faith Leaders stand with Hilda Ramirez as ICE threatens her with deportation, steep fines, and criminal prosecution.

ICE Escalates Retaliation Against Communities of Faith

WHAT​: Press Conference and Rally
WHO​: Austin Sanctuary Network, Grassroots Leadership, and Faith leaders from Austin, TX
WHEN​: Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 at 7:30am
WHERE​: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 14311 Wells Port Dr, Austin, TX 78728. After the press conference we will caravan to the ICE office at the J.J. Pickle Federal Building (Corner of 9th St and San Jacinto St).

AUSTIN, Tex. — Tuesday morning, faith leaders and community members will hold a press conference before caravaning to the J.J. Pickle Building in response to a letter sent to Hilda Ramirez by San Antonio Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field Director Daniel Bible. Letter can be viewed here​.

Two months ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rescinded fines ranging between $300,000 – $500,000 against seven women living in Sanctuary in churches across the country, including Hilda Ramirez. Last week, ICE 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.

Local Faith leaders are deeply troubled at the prospect that houses of worship may not be treated as the sanctuaries they are. The above-referenced letter gives cause to believe that the U.S. government may be considering violating its past commitments to honor the sanctity of these spaces. On Tuesday, people of faith will be asking federal authorities for a clear answer as to whether federal officials have any intentions to enter houses of worship to carry out enforcement procedures.

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The​ Austin Sanctuary Network (ASN)​ is a coalition of faith communities, immigrants, other community members and organizations in and around Austin, Texas, that support immigrants fleeing violence or in danger of deportation. Follow us​ @SanctuaryAustin

Grassroots Leadership i​ s 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.​

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

Original post on freemigrationproject.org

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.

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

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 22, 2019
Contact: Austin Sanctuary Network​ leadership@austinsanctuarynetwork.org

PDF Version

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.”

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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.

Contact:
leadership@austinsanctuarynetwork.org

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

For Immediate Release

For more information, please contact:
Claudia Muñoz, cmunoz@grassrootsleadership.org, (512) 499-8111
Peggy Morton, peggy@austinsanctuarynetwork.org, (512) 751-6415
Lynn Cervini, lynn@austinsanctuarynetwork.org, (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”

https://austinsanctuarynetwork.org

PRESS RELEASE: Immigrant Rights Groups Demand Government Records On Recent Onslaught of Civil Penalties Against Immigrants in Sanctuary

For Immediate Release

For more information, please contact:
Claudia Munoz, cmunoz@grassrootsleadership.org, (512)-499-8111
Lizbeth Mateo Jimenez, (213)-262-2581
Dave Bennion, (646)-441-0741

DOWNLOAD PRESS RELEASE PDF

Immigrant Rights Groups Demand Government Records On Recent Onslaught of Civil Penalties Against Immigrants in Sanctuary

Excessive and Retaliatory Fines Target Sanctuary Seekers and Activists

September 20, 2019, New York, NY – Austin Sanctuary Network, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Free Migration Project, and Grassroots Leadership demand records from the Trump Administration on the recent spate of exorbitant civil fines against people who have chosen to take sanctuary while pursuing their legal remedies to remain in the U.S. An unknown number of people in sanctuary received notices for ‘failure to depart’ this past summer, according to the groups. Advocates first became aware of this practice, enabled by a seldom-used provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), in July 2019, when a number of people in sanctuary received notices of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s intent to fine them within a matter of weeks, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

Edith Espinal Moreno, an immigration activist and sanctuary seeker in Ohio, received such a notice on June 25, 2019. “I am happy that people who support me and others living in sanctuary are fighting to uncover all of the information that we know exists that proves that the Trump administration is purposefully retaliating against us because we are living in sanctuary. I want everyone to know that we are not going to let the government scare us into staying silent,” said Espinal Moreno, who has been in sanctuary since October 2017.

Austin Sanctuary Network, Free Migration Project, and Grassroots Leadership work closely with people who have received such “intent to fine” letters. The groups, along with the Center For Constitutional Rights, filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the U.S. Government to provide copies of certain non-public documents to interested parties. The groups are seeking a broad array of information from ICE, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, including records relating to current policies, procedures, guidelines, and other materials documenting when and how civil fines and penalties under INA § 274D, 8 U.S.C. §1324d, the provision of the INA that allows ICE to levy these steep fines, are being enforced against individuals.

“They want to traumatize us psychologically and I will fight for my case for both myself and my son,” said Hilda Ramirez, an activist and leader of Austin Sanctuary Network, who also received an “intent to fine” notice after taking sanctuary in an Austin, Texas church for almost four years. “ICE knows very well knows we don’t have that amount of money. We don’t have money, we don’t have anything. I need help from Congressmen and our whole community because this is an injustice. We don’t have a normal life. That’s all we want.”

Lizbeth Mateo, a lawyer representing Ms. Espinal Moreno, raised concerns about the legality and motives behind the fines. “It is no secret that the Trump administration has regarded the practice of providing sanctuary to immigrants as a lawless one and has vowed to end it. But it is the government that has violated the law by trying to impose exorbitant fines in an effort to intimidate and silence immigrants who dare speak against this administration’s treatment of immigrants. My client Edith and I are confident that with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the other organizations that have joined this records request, we will be able to prove what we have known for a while – that this administration is retaliating against sanctuary leaders like Edith,” said Mateo.

“The Center for Constitutional Rights is proud to stand with the immigrant community and support our organizational partners in shining a light on this administration’s cruel and outrageous policy of fining immigrants, in particular those who have chosen to take sanctuary,” said Ian Head, who coordinates the Open Records Project at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

For more information about the requesting organizations, please visit:
https://austinsanctuarynetwork.org
https://freemigrationproject.org
http://grassrootsleadership.org
https://ccrjustice.org