The government’s deportation agency has canceled the fines of up to $500,000 it had tried to levy on some illegal immigrants who are living in protection in churches, the sanctuary movement said Tuesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had fired off notices to a number of migrants earlier this year telling them they owed massive fines for defying deportation orders.
After an outcry from the migrants, and mocking from immigrant-rights advocates, ICE relented.
“Following consideration of matters you forwarded for ICE review, and in the exercise of discretion under applicable regulations, ICE hereby withdraws the Notice of Intention to Fine,” the agency said in letters to migrants. That portion of the letter was released publicly by the National Sanctuary Collective.
The migrants had called the fines an intimidation tactic, intended to scare them into leaving sanctuary. Under ICE policy, arrests of illegal immigrants are generally not made at churches, hospitals and schools.
That’s prompted a number of migrants to take up residence at churches, using them as a shield against deportation.
Edith Espinal, who’s been living in sanctuary in a Columbus, Ohio, church for two years, got a notice over the summer saying she owed nearly $500,000 for defying deportation orders for so long.
After the cancelation, she claimed victory Tuesday.
“To me this is an example of what speaking out and organizing can accomplish,” she said in a statement.
Hilda Ramirez, in sanctuary at an Austin, Texas, church, was served with a $303,620 fine notice in July. Hers was also canceled.
“We had the law on our side,” she said in a statement.
ICE had issued nine fines. Eight of them have been withdrawn. But the agency said each of them has been ordered removed, remains a fugitive, and is a priority for deportation.
These individuals are subject to final orders of removal and they remain in the United States in violation of law,” the agency said. “ICE will pursue enforcement of these removal orders using any and all available means, and has reserved the right to reassess fines in these cases.”
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