Hilda and Ivan are free at last!

Hilda Ramirez is finally able to leave St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church after she and her son Ivan spent the past 8 months in sanctuary there. Hilda and Ivan were granted deferred action of one year by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which means they are not at risk of deportation for the next year. On Tuesday, Hilda and Ivan, along with members of the Austin Sanctuary Network, held a press conference to announce the family’s victory over deportation and to share that Hilda was now able to leave sanctuary without fear of being picked up by ICE.

Hilda and Ivan first came to the United States from Guatemala in August of 2014, seeking asylum. There Hilda faced discrimination and persecution due to being indigenous and a woman. She fled because of threats against her and domestic violence. So she decided to take the long, painful journey to the U.S.-Mexico border to keep herself and Ivan safe, with hopes of receiving asylum in the U.S.

Once she arrived at the border, she and Ivan were detained by Border Patrol, processed, and sent to the Karnes family detention center, a lockup facility for Central American mothers and their children operated by the private prison company GEO Group. Hilda and her then 9-year-old son were incarcerated at Karnes for 11 months as their asylum cases were processed. While there, Hilda participated in the series of Karnes hunger strike to protest the prolonged detention, inhumane treatment and poor conditions. As her case progressed, she was finally able to leave Karnes but only if she wore an ankle monitor that she refers to as a “shackle.” She was unable to take it off until her case was processed, an experience she described on Tuesday as embarrassing and painful. She and Ivan spent the next seven months living at a shelter with other refugees.

When ICE announced on Christmas Eve of 2015 that they would be intensifying raids to deport Central American families like Hilda’s, she sought out Sulma Franco and the organizers who had supported her while she was in sanctuary.  Then, she approached St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church about taking sanctuary in their church. They readily agreed, and supported her while her case continued. While in sanctuary,  she was unable to leave the relative safety of the church. ICE has a policy of not entering “sensitive” locations to detain individuals. After eight months of living in St. Andrews, Hilda and Ivan were given deferred action, which meant that ICE would decline to deport them for the following year. During this time, she is able to apply for a work permit and receive an ID. She and Ivan are finally able to spend time together outside. She is able to go and watch her son play soccer, the first thing she did when she heard the news that she could leave.

This case is the first success of a family sanctuary case since the 1980's. It is also the second success of the Austin Sanctuary Network following the successful sanctuary campaign of Sulma Franco, a Guatemalan LGBTQ woman and activist who had take refuge in the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin for 3 months in 2015.