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
– Jessica Duran, ​​, ​(956) 622-2736​
– Claudia Munoz, ​​, (512) 910-1759


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Two months ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rescinded fines ranging between $300,000 – $500,000 against seven women living in Sanctuary in churches across the country, including Hilda Ramirez.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


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

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.

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​

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.”


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”

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,, (512)-499-8111
Lizbeth Mateo Jimenez, (213)-262-2581
Dave Bennion, (646)-441-0741


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:

Support ASN! And come party with Brave Combo!

Brave Combo

The Austin Sanctuary Network is celebrating another year of hard work fighting to free Hilda, Ivan and Alirio! Come join the party and enjoy the popular music of Brave Combo! Proceeds from ticket sales will go to continue the fight to free our immigrant friends from the confines of sanctuary in two Austin churches.

Click here for info and tickets

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019
Doors open at 6:30 PM

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
14311 Wells Port Dr
Austin, TX 78728

Can’t attend? You can donate here. Anything you can give is greatly appreciated.

We’re hiring an Immigration Community Organizer

ASN Logo

We have posted the following at Idealist:

Austin Sanctuary Network (ASN) seeks an Immigration Community Organizer in Austin, Texas to mobilize members and manage a campaign with local, state and national aspects to stop unjust deportations.

Who we are

Sanctuary is a place of safety where love and protection are manifest. ASN is a coalition of faith communities, immigrants, organizations, and other community members in and around Austin, Texas, that support immigrants fleeing violence or in danger of deportation by providing sanctuary and ultimately helping them gain their freedom. We confront violent actions with bold compassion and courageous love, standing up for people’s rights, regardless of status. ASN stands in solidarity with undocumented immigrants who are being detained unjustly and denied asylum status, and we’ve stopped deportations six times.

The Immigration Community Organizer must:

  • work directly with immigrants in sanctuary while acting as a liaison to the broader sanctuary network to help them see their needs are met.
  • be highly ethical and work well with diverse individuals and communities.
  • lead a strategic campaign to mobilize constituencies at the grassroots level to create political change.
  • work at coalition-building by engaging with immigrants, faith-based congregations, and other community organizations about issues surrounding immigration justice.
  • collaborate actively with ASN leadership to motivate the community, allies and volunteers to execute and achieve the ASN mission and goals.
  • recognize immigrants in sanctuary are leading the efforts for their freedom

The Organizer Position

This is a one year position with a three-month trial and is potentially renewable. The position is full time and the salary range is $30,000 to $40,000 based on experience.

Ideal Experience in:

  • stopping deportations within the immigrant rights community.
  • base-building effectively with diverse constituencies.
  • analyzing power dynamics and building strength in communities.
  • educating community members about immigration issues, race, and power dynamics.
  • motivating and inspiring folks to take action with a strong background as a successful community organizer and campaigner with faith-based and other groups.
  • developing connections with lawyers, undocumented folks and the current sanctuary movement.
  • working with elected officials to pass humane immigration law.

The Organizer must have:

  • excellent speaking, writing and editing skills in both English and Spanish.
  • proficient administrative and technology skills, including Google Suite and social networking.
  • well-developed listening skills and an ability to engage with a broad range of faith-based and other community members in their places of worship and other spaces.
  • excellent critical thinking, organizational and time-management skills.
  • an ability to facilitate meetings and to educate folks about campaigns and non-violent civil disobedience.
  • excellent interpersonal skills including a sense of humor. Must be personable and able to build a strong rapport with individuals from many different backgrounds.
  • a strong work ethic, ability to work independently and willingness to take initiative.
  • a willingness to work irregular hours, including evening and weekend meetings.
  • the ability to manage one campaign with folks living in two separate houses of worship.
  • demonstrated an ability to think strategically and act decisively in rapidly changing situations.
  • the ability to develop strong relationships with folks in sanctuary, including an understanding of the mental health impact of isolation.

Applicants who do not have all the ideal experience will still be considered. If you think you can do the job well, please apply.

Applicants may apply directly to

ICE is fining Hilda and Ivan $303,000 for seeking sanctuary

On Monday, Hilda who is currently in sanctuary in Austin, TX, received a letter from ICE telling her she owed the US government $303,000.00. This fine is being imposed on her as retaliation because she chose to protect herself and her 13 year-old son from deportation and the violence they faced in Guatemala. The law that authorizes this fine has been on the books since 1962, but has not been used against an individual before.

Make no mistake, the Trump administration wants to normalize prosecuting people of faith and churches that are helping immigrants. They prosecuted people in Arizona who were giving water to immigrants in the desert and are now attacking Hilda and other people who are in sanctuary churches in the United States. So far, we know ICE has sent about similar letters to 10 sanctuary leaders.

The Trump administration is trying to silence Hilda and the other immigrants who’ve taken refuge in churches across the country. We know this is just a step in their plan to one day break into a church to arrest people. But Hilda is fierce, and she will not be silenced. To stand with her and the Sanctuary movement, please add your name here: and follow us for calls to action and updates.

#DefendSanctuaryChurches #DefiendeIglesiasSantuario

We’re raising funds to hire an organizer!

Hilda and Ivan, in sacntuary
Hilda and Ivan, living in sanctuary

To continue our mission and strengthen our organization, we need $15,000 to hire a dynamic professional organizer. Will you help us by making a tax deductible donation to this campaign?

Your donation aids the Austin Sanctuary Network as it works to become stronger and furthers our mission of protecting the human rights of immigrants across the United States. A salaried organizer will help us expand our local nonprofit into a powerful national advocacy organization that helps even more immigrants who are in danger.

Click HERE to contribute!


PRESS RELEASE: Denied and retaliated against: Fearing arrest by ICE, asylum seekers Hilda Ramirez and Alirio Gamez re-enter sanctuary in Austin churches

For immediate release: March 19, 2019

Sulma Franco,, 512-573-7683 (Spanish)
Rev.  Jim Rigby,, 512-484-9687 (English)
Maria Reza, (English & Spanish)

Denied and retaliated against: Fearing arrest by ICE, asylum seekers Hilda Ramirez and Alirio Gamez re-enter sanctuary in Austin churches

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. — The Austin Sanctuary Network, a coalition of congregations and non-profit organizations that work in solidarity with immigrants, held a rally outside the San Antonio Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office during the time Alirio Gamez and Hilda Ramirez were scheduled for their ICE check-in.  Among those in attendance was Ramirez’s 12-year-old son Ivan.

Last week, ICE denied Ramirez and Gamez’s requests for extended deferred action and were expected to appear for their ICE check-in on March 19, a day after their temporary stay expired. As retaliations against migrants who advocate for their rights have alarmingly increased, Ramirez and Gamez believed if they attended this meeting, they would have been apprehended for detention and deportation. Last October, Samuel Oliver-Bruno was detained and deported after appearing for his ICE check-in. Last month, ICE retaliated against Claudio Rojas, the protagonist of The Infiltrators, by detaining him during what was supposed to be normal ICE check-in.

Fearing arrest, Ramirez and Gamez decided to not attend their ICE check-in and instead to re-enter sanctuary in Austin churches. Members of ASN instead used the time of the check-in to send a message to ICE of solidarity to Ramirez and Gamez as well as a commitment to their well being and safety.

“I am not going into sanctuary because I want to hide,” said Gamez. “I am here because there is a large religious community here who are supporting us and I have faith. That’s why I’m here. We know that immigration tries to terrorize the immigrant community, but we are here to continue this fight, not just for us but for all of the immigrants in this country.”

Gamez, who originally fled violence and threats to his life in El Salvador, is suffering from health conditions. While living in sanctuary, undocumented immigrants across the country have experienced severe mental, emotional and physical health consequences common among people in confinement. For Gamez, this includes developing diabetes while in sanctuary, an illness of which his family has no history. Ramirez and her son have experienced compounding trauma and mental health concerns.

Ramirez and Gamez have the support of US Representatives Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett. Prior to their check-in, both of the representatives’ offices contacted ICE field director Daniel Bible to ask him to consider deferred action, but ASN members believe they can do more to support Ramirez and Gamez.

“We will not be afraid to stand up to ICE together. We will not allow for ICE to lie to our Congressmen Castro and Doggett,” said Lynn Cervini, member of the Austin Sanctuary Network. “We will not allow ICE to treat our immigrant friends inhumanely. We will show our congressman what it looks like to stand up to ICE in the hope that they will follow our lead.”

In October 2018, Ramirez and Gamez were determined not to be a priority for deportation and were granted a temporary stay of deportation for five months to allow them to remain in the country. Their status when they were granted the temporary stay has not changed.

Gamez and Ramirez, as well as Ramirez’s son Ivan, have taken sanctuary in two Austin churches for more than a year. Given Daniel Bible’s decision to deny further deferred action on their deportation, they will return to sanctuary and will continue to remain in sanctuary for the foreseeable future.

“We know that the government at a national and at a state level likes to say that Austin is not a sanctuary city, but we decide that,” said Claudia Muñoz, Immigration Programs Director at Grassroots Leadership. “The community decides that. And we say that Austin is a sanctuary city.”

# # #

Austin Sanctuary Network is a coalition of faith communities, immigrants and other community members of civil society and organizations in and around Austin, Texas, that support immigrants fleeing violence or in danger of deportation. See or follow ASN on Twitter at @SanctuaryAustin.

Grassroots Leadership is 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.