Sanctuary Immigrants Take Refuge In Texas Church, Watch Election Closely

Among those anxiously watching the U.S. presidential election is a Guatemalan mother and her teenaged son who have taken refuge in a church in Austin, Texas, for the entirety of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Hilda and Iván Ramirez are ensconced in the Sunday school wing of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, which has given them sanctuary from deportation for more than four and a half years.

The 32-year-old mother and 14-year-old son have chosen this kind of cozy prison because they believe that if they leave church property they’ll be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE agents generally do not make arrests inside churches, schools and hospitals.

“It’s hard to have two fears,” says Ramirez, sitting in the parish hall of the suburban church in north Austin. “I’m afraid they’ll separate me from my son, that immigration agents will come at any minute. And I’m afraid of COVID, that I won’t be able to go to the doctor.”

As Election Day approaches, millions of immigrants like Ramirez are looking to Joe Biden as a savior if he gets in the White House. Trump promises to continue the crackdown if he wins a second term and warns that Biden would throw open the borders to massive illegal immigration.

Biden pledges to reverse Trump’s harsh immigration restrictions and reenact more lenient Obama-era policies, such as restoring the asylum process and creating a path to citizenship for unauthorized migrants already in the U.S. Biden’s extensive immigration rollback runs to 22 pages.

Ramirez says they fled Ivan’s abusive grandfather in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala five years ago, made it to the Texas border, and asked for asylum from the Obama/Biden administration. When her asylum request was denied, they fled to the safety of the church rather than let ICE remove them.

By John Burnett for NPR
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