(SAN ANTONIO and AUSTIN, Texas) — Alirio Gámez, an asylum seeker from El Salvador who has taken Sanctuary at First Unitarian Universalist Church since September 5, spoke to a crowd of supporters and media this morning on his fight to stay in the United States. “We are going to demonstrate to ICE that there is a community that loves me and we will fight so that I can live," he said.
On Wednesday morning, more than 50 Austin community members took a caravan to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Office in San Antonio. Joined by local groups from San Marcos, Houston, Kerrville and San Antonio, the rally led chanting and marching in the cold rain outside ICE offices to send the message that Alirio deserves safety and protection. "Our immigration system is broken and racist to the core. Alirio’s case gives ICE the opportunity to do the right thing," said Rev. Chris Jimmerson of First Unitarian Universalist Church.
ICE Deputy Chief of Staff Norma Lacy has spoken publicly to Austin groups in recent months that prosecutorial discretion is an available path to relief locally for immigrants facing deportation. Despite Lacy’s promise to work with the community, she denied meeting with Alirio’s delegation today. "Even when we followed their procedure, ICE lied to our face,” said Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer with Grassroots Leadership.
Alirio entered Sanctuary publicly three months ago seeking protection for his life as he faces certain danger in his home country of El Salvador. Since then, community member have sent 2,000 petition signatures, made 100 calls, and written over a dozen letters of support on his behalf, including letters from Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Leslie Pool.
While today’s actions demonstrated a challenge, the Austin community remains committed to Sanctuary as resistance to federal and local policies that deport immigrants. “This is an abomination and we must do everything we can to end these immoral practices. We tell our government that we will not stand by while they destroy human lives for no moral or legal reason,” said Rev. Babs Miller from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
Sulma Franco, organizer with the Austin Sanctuary Network who took Sanctuary in 2015, spoke on the next steps of the campaign: "We will not stop until we win. Alirio is a member of our community and we will not let ICE deport him. We protect his safety, and we are going to escalate action until ICE grants his stay. This is not the end, this is only the beginning.”
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The Austin Sanctuary Network is a multi-faith coalition of congregations in and around Austin that have been invited to join the larger immigrant rights struggle. Together with those at risk of deportation and their families and allies, we are seeking justice and dignity by opening our doors to provide sanctuary as a tool to achieve those goals.
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.
Alejandro Caceres, firstname.lastname@example.org, (512) 499-8111