Why that matters, and how you can help
Alirio Gámez entered sanctuary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin in August of this year, and has been living within the church since. During a press conference in September, Alirio commented “I entered sanctuary because I have a right to live, and I want my life to be respected.”
In fact, Alirio’s life is at risk if he is deported back to his native El Salvador. In 2015 Alirio left his job and his family to escape the violence crippling his country, and threats directed towards him. After traveling by land to enter the United States, Alirio was picked up by ICE and pressured to leave, but instead he pursued the legal course of action to seek political asylum. In May, his asylum was denied and he was issued a deportation order.
Alirio’s situation came to the attention of the Austin Sanctuary Network, a coalition of over 25 congregations and nonprofits in Austin, who helped Alirio find sanctuary at First UU. Together the Austin Sanctuary Network and Alirio are preparing to fight until Alirio is granted prosecutorial discretion by ICE to stop his deportation. The ASN has launched a petition campaign with that goal, and we’re asking you to sign on.
By signing the petition online, you not only add your name to the hundreds who have already, but you will automatically send an e-mail directly to ICE officials Norma Lacy and Daniel Bible requesting they use their prosecutorial discretion to allow him to remain in our community.
While Alirio is just one man, every victory against America’s deportation regime chips away at the system. In 2015, the First Unitarian Universalist Church provided sanctuary to Sulma Franco, an LGBTQ activist from Guatemala who faced persecution and violence in her home country because of her sexual orientation. Sulma was the first person to seek sanctuary from deportation in a church in Texas since the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, but her situation ended in victory: with broad support from the community, Sulma won a Stay of deportation and 15 months later earned her US resident card to stay. We can win for Alirio too.
The extreme violence Alirio faced in Central America has everything to do with America’s militarized and politically hyperbolic “war on drugs”, combined with its insatiable appetite for those same drugs. In spite of this, the US denies asylum to 83% of seekers from El Salvador, 77% from Guatemala, 80% from Honduras and nearly 90% from Mexico. Many asylum seekers, especially those coming from Central America, do not have legal representation as they formally seek asylum in the US — 30% from El Salvador do not. By winning individual victories we can chip away at the legal culture of default deportation, and establish increasing precedence for asylum seekers to stay.
Also, we might help save Alirio’s life.
To keep up with this situation and learn more follow the Austin Sanctuary Network on Facebook.