On January 18, two immigration groups, the Free Migration Project in Philadelphia and the Austin Sanctuary Network in Texas, joined four undocumented immigrant women living in sanctuary to file a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a Washington, D.C., Court. The four women are suing ICE and the DHS over a policy issued under the former Trump administration that fined these undocumented asylum seekers living in sanctuary.
The Lawsuit Against the DHS
The suit claims that the government unfairly targeted these four undocumented immigrant women who live in houses of worship. The government issued excessive fines, claimed by the plaintiffs to be retaliation against them for being leaders in the sanctuary movement. The Freedom of Information Act revealed that the government directed fining of asylum seekers in sanctuary who have spoken with the media, to stop them from speaking out, the lawsuit stated. ICE and the DHS have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.
Vicky Chavez, living in a Utah church, Mariah Chavalan Sut, from a church in Virginia, Edit Espinal from an Ohio church, and Hilda Ramirez are parties to this lawsuit. After being denied asylum, Ramirez and her son have lived in a Texas church since 2016. She has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. The lawsuit demands the court to rescind the fines and issue a formal apology.
Pennsylvania and Texas Immigration Groups Respond
There are 15 notable sanctuary campaigns across the country said David Bennion, Executive Director of the Free Migration project, noting that some locations are clandestine. The immigration agencies avoided conducting arrests in schools, hospitals, and places of worship, calling them “sensitive locations.”
“ICE targeted these four women and a small number of other sanctuary leaders, with astronomical civil fines of up to half a million dollars each,” David Bennion, said during a media event.
“They hurt us mentally and psychologically, attacking us because they know we aren’t working, we are in a church,” Ramirez said in Spanish. The four undocumented women expressed hope and optimism. Ramirez said she hopes their pleas reach President Joe Biden’s ears, stating “I believe this is why we are here, so that our voices are heard, and that Mr. Biden hears us.”