For immediate release: March 18, 2019
AUSTIN, Tex. — Hilda Ramirez and Alirio Gamez, asylum seekers taking sanctuary in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, were notified this week that their requests for an extension to deferred action on their deportations were denied without a valid explanation as to why. Austin Sanctuary Network will hold a conference today outside the First Unitarian Universalist Church to raise awareness about their situation.
Ramirez and Gamez, as well as Ramirez’s 12 year old son Ivan, were further instructed to appear at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in San Antonio on March 19, the day after their current temporary stay of deportation expires. Ramirez and Gamez believe if they attend this meeting, they will be apprehended for detention and deportation. Retaliations from ICE are becoming increasingly common; 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.
Ramirez and Gamez are leaders of the Austin Sanctuary Network, a coalition of congregations and non-profit organizations that work in solidarity with immigrants and asylum seekers to resist deportations. Having been denied their respective applications for asylum, Ramirez and Gamez took sanctuary in the two Austin churches in 2017 and lived in sanctuary for more than a year.
US Representatives Lloyd Doggett and Rep. Joaquin Castro support Ramirez and Gamez, and contacted ICE field director Daniel Bible to ask him to consider deferred action. 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.
Ramirez is the mother of 12 year old Ivan, who has a pending visa case.
“If thousands of community members and elected officials determine that we are welcome in this community, why is ICE not listening to them and terrorizing us? They know we are not a priority for deportation, and granted us discretion and then without reason, they took it away,” Ramirez said. “ICE doesn’t think they have to listen to anybody, and that’s dangerous. I am going to continue fighting because I have a community behind me and because my faith is bigger than any terror they can inflict on me.”
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.
Sulma Franco, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, stated, “I admire the courage Alirio, Hilda, and Ivan have. They are teaching us they are stronger than we already thought. This battle is bigger than them, it’s also for all those in sanctuary. We have to fight for their freedom.”
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Austin Sanctuary Network is a coalition of faith communities, immigrants and other community members and organizations in and around Austin that support immigrants fleeing violence or in danger of deportation. See austinsanctuarynetwork.org or follow ASN on Twitter at @SanctuaryAustin or Facebook at facebook.com/AustinSanctuaryNetwork
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.