Immigrants seeking sanctuary in Austin churches ask for city’s help


The next time immigration officials pick up people living illegally in Austin, they could be thrown into deportation proceedings. Three immigrants have taken refuge in neighborhood churches.

Thursday, they’re expected to ask for support from the Austin City Council. 

The garden outside Hilda Ramirez’s apartment looks like many in north Austin, except her apartment is a former Sunday school room at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. 

Ramirez fled violence in Guatemala with her 11-year-old son Ivan. They’re living here illegally. 

“I’m not a bad person”, she says. “I only want to live in peace and be happy with my son.”

“The moment she leaves here, she is subject to being picked up,” said St. Andrew’s minister Babs Miller. “When I read the sermon on the mount in the new testament it’s very clear that we are called to take in the stranger in our midst.”

St. Andrews is part of the Austin Sanctuary Network and Miller plans to call on the city for support. She hopes elected leaders will write letters to D.C. asking for people like Hilda and her son to stay.

That idea crashes right up against new Department of Justice policies. 

“I have put in place a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border, if you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told supporters earlier this week.

Hilda says the help from the church has been wonderful.  Now she’s waiting to see if the city will support her sanctuary. 

There are currently three immigrants living in Austin churches as part of the network.

It’s current Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy not to arrest, interview, search or conduct surveillance at what it calls “sensitive locations.” 

Those locations include schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues or mosques, the sites of weddings and funerals, or where people are publicly demonstrating such as a march, rally or parade.

Like any policy, the agency also has exceptions and they include national security or terrorism, the pursuit of a dangerous felon, or “imminent risk of destruction of evidence material” to an ongoing criminal case.

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