Activists assist area resident in federal custody

An undocumented Wimberley woman detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following a misdemeanor arrest was released from custody April 3.

The release of Maria Garcia, of Wimberley, was due in part to the work of local groups that have helped a handful of area residents temporarily avoid deportation.

Karen Muñoz, co-founder of Mano Amiga, an immigrant advocacy group in San Marcos, started the organization in 2017 after she felt like there was a lack of resources for immigrants in the community.

So far, the group has helped four individuals with deportation defense proceedings, including Victor Avendano-Ramirez, who was arrested after a traffic stop in Kyle, when officers saw he had active warrants for other traffic violations. Both Garcia and Avendano-Ramirez were placed in ICE custody before they were released.

“We saw a vacuum of resources in our community and we felt that these communities were being attacked. SB4 (Senate Bill 4) is the most anti-immigrant bill that this country has seen, besides maybe SB 1070 in Arizona, and Texas is ground zero. We saw this and said, ‘We need to help’,” Muñoz said.

Mary Gilroy, a volunteer from Wimberley Indivisible, an area advocacy group, said the group organized after the 2016 election as a “group of progressive minded people who want to take action on issues.”

The group does not normally work with immigration issues, but they wanted to help the two members in their community who were detained and, Gilroy said, because suddenly people have a “phobia of immigrants.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB4 on May 7, 2017, which bans sanctuary cities in the state and requires local law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration agents.

Although a federal judge in San Antonio temporarily blocked the bill in August, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in March that the bill could remain in effect while the case is pending.

Muñoz says her group has seen an increase in undocumented immigrant detainments in San Marcos and the surrounding area and Mano Amiga has had an increase in calls from people asking for help.

“But this isn’t completely new. Our sheriff’s office says they’ve been turning people over to ICE since the 90s,” Muñoz said.

The Hays Free Press reached out to the Sheriff’s office prior to publication but was not able to receive a comment.

Mano Amiga, along with Wimberley Indivisible and the national group DreamActivist, were key in helping Garcia and Avendano-Ramirez get released on bond from the ICE detention center.

The groups organized protests, helped raise money for bonds and lawyer fees, and helped find an immigration lawyer from the Migrant Center for Human Rights in San Antonio.

Avendano-Ramirez was released from the detainment facility on Feb. 19 with a bond of $1,500, while Garcia was released on April 3 with a bond of $7,000.

At some point in the future each of them will receive letters instructing them on when to appear for their immigration hearings. This could be anywhere from three months to three years from now.

“What’s important is they get to fight their case at home, be with their families, and get support from their communities. And it’s easier to talk to their lawyers when they’re not in detention,” Muñoz said. “They still have a lot of paperwork to go through for their cases. They’re not done yet and they know that.”

Both Garcia and Avendano-Ramirez are active members of their local and church communities in Wimberley.

“These people have lived in this country for 10, 15, sometimes 20 years. They are a critical part of our community – at least the people I know in Wimberley welcome them here, we appreciate the diversity. The concept that they are ‘criminals’ because they crossed into this country 10 or 20 years ago without legal status, that doesn’t color my thinking,” Gilroy said. “I think we have room in this country and in our community.”

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