Up until a few days ago for Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son Ivan walking out the front doors of a North Austin church could've gotten them deported. But now with their immigration status, somewhat, resolved -- breathing fresh air will no longer run the risk of costing them their freedom.
"It was impressive for me. I could not believe it, I was finally able to go out, I just couldn't believe it, and I was very excited. It was something incredible after all this time not being able to get out, ever since I came to the United States,” said Ramirez.
Tuesday a coming out party was held at St. Andrews Presbyterian.
"So when our nation says, fear says, to build a wall, love always says to open a door,” said Jim Rigby with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian.
The small family from Guatemala was surrounded by immigration advocates who have provided them with sanctuary for the past eight months.
"Our lives have been altered forever by these two brave people,” said Rev. Babs Miller.
On the other side of a locked door, Hilda and Ivan lived down a hallway in a converted office. He was allowed to leave only to attend school, or for an emergency. For Hilda a closed courtyard was the only place where she could safely see the open sky.
"When I heard that I was going to be deported, I got really scared, I couldn't sleep, I was always at the door to see who would come and go. Sometimes I would sleep in the couch to be close to the door. I was living in fear,” said Ramirez.
Fear has now been replaced by excitement. Instead of watching her son kick a ball around the church- Hilda will soon get to see a real match - which has Ivan pretty happy.
"Because she can now come see me play soccer and I can go with my mom anywhere. I feel like she's not sad anymore because she's no longer locked all day, and I feel like she has freedom now,” said Ivan.
It’s believed there are many more people seeking sanctuary but there is not enough room. Here in the Austin area there are 14 churches that are part of this Sanctuary Network, and an effort is underway to expand that number.
"What we envision is a sanctuary network that is nationwide, where a thousand churches offer sanctuary to a thousand asylum seekers. Where a thousand lawyers are working on behalf of these asylum seekers, it is numbers where we have power and we are growing,” said Austin Sanctuary Network member Meg Barnhouse.
Sulma Franco understands the need - she was one of the first to seek refuge in an Austin church. The embrace she gave Hilda Ramirez symbolizes the special bond and journey the two now share.
"Yeah I’m feeling like she is my sister, yeah I’m so happy for her,” said Franco.
Hilda Ramirez and her son are going to continue to living at the church for the time being. The effort will now shift to nailing down a job and finding a more permanent place to stay.