This was the latest threat in an ongoing saga that began in July 2019. As Prism reported last year, Ramirez is one of seven high profile women to emerge as leaders of the nationwide sanctuary movement, and ICE has spent more than a year working tirelessly beating them with exorbitant fines. The women affected have some things in common: all are outright asylum seekers, have appeals or retrial requests, and have actively and publicly tried to find legal ways to stay in the United States as part of an immigrant-led sanctuary collective.
ICE's recent fines are significantly lower than the previous amounts the agency had to withdraw after failing to follow the appropriate procedures for issuing them. For example, Edith Espinal, a Mexican asylum seeker in the Ohio sanctuary, was wrongly fined $ 497,777 in July. Like Ramirez, Espinal received a new notice on Thanksgiving weekend informing them of ICE's most recent fine. Her attorney Lizbeth Mateo told Prism that it was nearly $ 60,000. At least two other women in the sanctuary received similar communications from ICE last month.
In a text message to Prisma, Ramirez said this whole ordeal made her sad and upset. "Immigration continues to threaten me," wrote Ramirez on the morning of December 1st. “It's very difficult for me. Immigration keeps attacking me. “Ramirez & # 39; only defense against continued attack by the federal government comes through community support from organizers, attorneys and the Austin denomination for food, clothing and shelter.
There are still questions about the ultimate goal of ICE. The agency knows that the women it is pounding exorbitant fines have no way of paying the debt. All of them are stuck in their sanctuary churches and cannot leave the site without risking imprisonment and deportation. All are also undocumented, which means it is illegal for employers to hire them. There is practically no way for these women to make money, let alone the amount of money that ICE imposes on them.
"I don't know how they expect me to pay this fine if I can't even work legally in this country," Ramirez told Prism. "Are you catching me breaking the law?"
Earlier iterations of the fines threatened criminal prosecution. to lead Sanctuary movement leaders, advocates, and advocates within the Sanctuary Movement believe that federal agencies laid the groundwork for entry into churches, schools, and hospitals to arrest the leaders of the sanctuaries in breach of 2011 memo This advises ICE sales representatives and agents to avoid enforcement in "sensitive locations". However, recently released documents show that the fines may be retaliatory only, raising serious freedom of speech concerns for immigrants like Ramirez who have fled gender-based violence to be specifically punished as an asylum seeker for violating their right to public speech has asserted about the state violence she experienced.
ICE is at the discretion
Proponents say the schedule of events around the leaders of the sanctuaries ongoing litigation against ICE Illustrates the Agency's retaliation against fines. The Austin Sanctuary Network, the Free Migration Project, Grassroots Leadership, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) are organizations representing the leaders of protected areas, and CCR held a press conference on February 26th this year Announcement of the litigation. The very next day, ICE sent letters to the sanctuary leaders informing them of fines.
Months later, practically the same sequence played out again. On October 28th, the sanctuary leaders held a virtual press conference asking Joe Biden to pledge to their release if elected and to announce that they would support a petition and letters of support from organizations and elected officials submit the Biden campaign. Less than a week later, ICE sent out its latest notice of fines amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
An ICE spokesman told Prism that the federal immigration service “does not attack illegally present foreigners based on their advocacy positions or in retaliation for critical comments they make.
"However, ICE has an obligation to prosecute anyone who violates our country's immigration laws," the spokesman wrote in an email statement. “ICE continues to impose civil fines on foreigners ordered deportation or voluntary departure who do not leave the United States, including those who seek refuge in churches and who fail to comply with deportation orders. Anyone who violates U.S. immigration laws can be arrested, detained, fined, and, if removable by final order, removed from the U.S. "
Lawyers who work with sanctuary leaders said they were aware of this from iCircumstances outside the sanctuary where ICE imposed civil fines on immigrants with final deportation orders, but these fines were considerably less than those imposed on sanctuary leaders. ICE did not respond to Prism's request for additional information regarding the number of immigrants outside the sanctuary that were fined.
documents The protected area managers and their lawyers obtained in the context of the dispute showed that the practice of imposing fines can be traced back to retaliatory measures set out in June 2018 under the former acting ICE director Thomas Homan. In a resolution dated June 19, 2018, the director delegated the power to “administer and enforce provisions on civil penalties in the event of non-departure” to a number of lower ICE officials, citing a delegation decision of the Ministry of Homeland Security (DHS) from 2004 and statutory Provisions from the INA, the US Code and the Code of Federal Regulations. Homan also issued a guideline setting out the agency's guidelines for evaluating and collecting fines, which essentially gave field offices and ICE officials at the local level full discretion in deciding on the fine.
Combined, Homan's order and the policy enabled ICE to arm an obscure, never-before-applied immigration law to impose heavy civil fines on immigrants in the sanctuary. With the discretion to whomever they wanted, the agency chose outright asylum seekers – many of them mothers who fear death when they return to their home countries.
Emails received as part of the litigation indicated that ICE launched its plan in April 2019 to fine the heads of protected areas. ICE field offices were notified when they had at least one protection case in their jurisdiction, and the heavily edited correspondence related to a "civil penalties working group" which advised attorneys "that ICE and possibly other government actors have long been taking a concerted move have – long-term efforts to develop and rationalize the fine policy as early as 2017. "
By and large, attorneys and attorneys speaking to Prism said it should worry the American public that obscure laws and regulations are being armed – especially since those decisions appear to be made by high-ranking officials in the Trump administration, including Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump's top immigration adviser.
Retaliatory civil penalties are not the only way to target existing immigrant laws. As the pandemic began, Miller and the Trump administration took the opportunity to arm Title 42, a section of the Public Health Safety Act that allows the U.S. government to temporarily prevent non-citizens from entering the U.S. "When it is necessary in the public interest health." Last month, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan stated "that the Trump administration has illegally phoned the pandemic to meet its long-term goal of keeping asylum seekers out," said Nicole Narea by Vox reported. At that point, however, more than 13,000 children had been deported under the directive.
documents published by American Oversight in July illustrated another ploy to arm existing laws that would ultimately affect immigrants in the sanctuary. Beginning in spring 2018, Miller requested Justice Department attorney Gene Hamilton for information about laws that might restrict immigration. On March 25, 2018, Miller emailed Hamilton asking him about a "fine / criminal law" – the same law cited in ICE's November letter to Ramirez, in which she was fined $ 59,126 . Hamilton stated that the Immigration Enforcement Account, which includes money from civil penalties, can be reimbursed for enforcement actions such as moving, tracking systems, or "repairing, maintaining, or building the US border wall," American Oversight reported. In other words, the federal government intended Ramirez and other asylum seekers to pay to enforce immigration regulations that are terrorizing their communities.
"Our trust is in you"
Ramirez told Prism that every letter from ICE feels like "another blow" to women seeking asylum. "I think that they are just attacking us women and trying to silence us so we don't speak out loud because we were in the media," said Ramirez. But she has no choice but to keep fighting. Her teenage son Ivan lives with her at church in Austin, Texas, and she is committed to getting them out so they can live freely in the United States no matter how long it takes.
It's not clear if the fines will continue in the new administration, but the leaders of the sanctuaries appear optimistic and look forward to January when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Immigrants are at the sanctuary after the controversial elections last month posted a video with a series of demands: you want to meet with Biden through Zoom and discuss their cases; They want the elected president to lift their deportation orders. and they want to be delivered from their churches.
When Trump took office, immigrants across the country were forced to seek refuge in record numbers. The same people now seem cautiously optimistic that Biden will take some relief from the relentless attacks they have witnessed over the past four years.
"We trust you," the sanctuary leaders tell Biden in their video. "We are waiting for your answer."
The Biden transition team did not respond to Prism's request for comment on the sanctuary leaders appeal or the government's plan for immigrants living in sanctuaries.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misrepresented ICE's use of fines in cases separate from those involving protected areas. The error has now been fixed.
Tina Vasquez is a senior reporter for Prisma. She deals with gender equality, labor rights and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.
Prism is a nonprofit news agency run by BIPOC that puts the spotlight on the people, places and topics that our national media currently does not cover. Through our original reporting, analysis and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives that are immortalized by the mainstream press, and work to create a complete and accurate record of what is happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.