A team of three Wimberley residents are supporting undocumented residents living among them, an effort that extends to providing legal advice and help for those in the United States without proper documentation.
Mary Gilroy, Mike Sullivan and Faith Hightower all share the goal of protecting those who have seeded roots in Wimberley.
The initial effort came after Wimberley resident Victor Avendano-Ramirez was stopped on his way to work by Kyle Police. Avendano-Ramirez was eventually turned over to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. His daughter, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and graduate of Wimberley High, fought to protect her father and after a long battle, Avendano was released in February 2018.
The group is currently working on consulting immigrants about their rights, along with educating them on due process and understanding the legal process in the United States.
“What we do is aimed at helping these people receive the legal help that they have the right to,” Gilroy said. “These people are not criminals. They are members of this community that work hard and have families that are part of our schools.”
Gilroy said undocumented residents in the United States have rights protected under the constitution. This includes due process, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, fair treatment against discrimination and unlawful searches and seizures.
Currently, law enforcement cannot prolong a stop on the suspicion of immigration status. However, local law enforcement is forced to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the entities’ investigation.
But Gilroy said immigrants often are not aware of the constitutional rights they have, giving ICE a leg-up in the legal process. Part of their efforts is to keep families together during the court process and without a citizen sponsor, immigrants are often forced to sit in a detention center for long periods of time on the taxpayer’s dime.
“Part of the problem is that these people are dehumanized, and that has only gotten worse in this political climate,” Gilroy said. “We need to stop creating this artificial crisis that says this country is being flooded by immigrants. Where people can legally seek asylum, they are now being detained.”
On May 7, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4, which disallowed cities to designate themselves as sanctuary cities, and forced the local entities to cooperate with immigration authorities. The controversial bill has since fallen in legal limbo, and currently allows law enforcement to ask for immigration status at the discretion of the officer.
Despite SB4, Gilroy and her team are looking to combat discriminatory policies towards immigrants in the future.
“There needs to be a process where even if it takes two decades to become a citizen, these people aren’t labeled as aliens or illegals,” Gilroy said. “There should be legal status pathways in this country so these people, who live and support our communities, are not seen as criminals.”
As long as the fight to protect those with constitutional rights in the United States continues, Gilroy, Sullivan and Hightower will consult with legal and immigration experts to protect those living in this country.