They have done it before and now they are doing it again. Under the specter of US president-elect Donald Trump’s threats to deport millions of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, churches again are rising up and declaring that they are a place of sanctuary for those fleeing the clutches of the US Department of Homeland Security. Trump has said that he would deport as many as 11 million people. Of late he stated 2 to 3 million immediately upon taking office.
First, it was again, as it was in the 80s, the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles and New York stating that they were sanctuary cities and would not cooperate with the US government in deporting immigrants, with the confirmation from police officials in each city. Major universities have also been asked to join the ranks as students, faculty and alumni, of such schools as Harvard & Yale, petition their administrations to offer protection to immigrant students enrolled on their campuses. Now, as many as 400 US churches and synagogues, across the breadth and height of the nation, are declaring that immigrants may seek refuge in their buildings.
Churches, along with schools and hospitals, are considered “sensitive locations” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That means federal agents will avoid arresting, searching or interviewing people there under most circumstances.
– Elizabeth Evans, RNS
New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is one of the groups organizing religious bodies that wish to offer their buildings as sanctuaries. The group’s executive director, Peter Pedemonti, says that he has fielded calls from churches and synagogues across the US in light of the presidential election results. World Church Services, a provider of legal services for immigrants, states that 13 have given refuge to 15 immigrants faced with deportation since 2013. Noel Anderson, a spokesman for World Church Services, is who provided the figure of 400 churches and synagogues willing to provide shelter to those seeking to avoid deportation.
The churches & synagogues willing to get involved are predominantly from mainstream denominations and liberal Catholic parishes. Those Christians who supported Trump’s election are mostly conservative, white Evangelicals (81%) and they aren’t likely to offer up their facilities for refuge. However, the latino evangelical Christian organizations, while not offering sanctuary, are pushing the Trump camp for immigration reform. The largest such group, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, with 40,118 congregations, is supporting immigration reform that provides “justice and mercy” for all undocumented immigrants.
The latest immigrant to seek refuge is Javier Florez, a 40-year-old husband and father to three young children. Seeking to avoid an order to surrender to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he has sought sanctuary at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia PA. A Roman Catholic, he sought shelter at the Methodist church, highlighting that Catholic Bishops are not all on the same page when it comes to offering shelter in their facilities. The senior pastor at Arch Street UMC, the Rev. Robin Hynicka has declared that, “Today and every day, if Javier and his family choose to stay with us, they will have a home with us.” She also stated, “It’s really key that people of faith be active, especially white America. It’s time to put your bodies, buildings and assets on the line.”