Buffalo advocates for immigrants declare their churches as sanctuaries at Pilgrim St. Luke's pic.twitter.com/tCZMEQN08p— Bob McCarthy (@bobmccarthybn) February 17, 2017
Across the country, hundreds of church leaders are defying President Donald Trump's stance on immigration to show solidarity and support. And in order to work to protect threatened communities, these places of worship are even sheltering those who are at risk of being targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, The Independent reports.
So far, 800 congregations have joined this particular “resistance” movement, providing support and shelter to undocumented migrants.
According to the leaders behind this effort, communities are going through tremendous stress and fear since Trump's directive ordered officials to crack down on illegal immigration. As reports of arrests and deportations hit the news, many fear that they will be next, even if they haven't committed any crimes.
According to Pastor Noel Anderson, the leader of the non-profit Church World Service, the system to crack down on immigration in use by Trump started with the past administration, which allegedly deported about 2 million people.
“[President Barack] Obama created the machinery for this,” Anderson told The Independent. But even if he “later tried to move back from it,” he continued, “now Trump is putting this machinery in overdrive.”
“We are very concerned that these policies are happening. We have a moral responsibility to resist and some congregations are ready to risk the chance of breaking the law.”
Looking at the sanctuary movement of the 1980s and 1990s for inspiration, current faith leaders hope to mimic the Christian communities of the past.
Churches and parishes have stepped in to help thousands of Central America migrants fleeing civil wars, with the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, being the center of the effort.
Federal law states that institutions, such as churches and synagogues, are considered public spaces, allowing law enforcement to enter while following orders. Nevertheless, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo in 2011 limiting ICE actions in areas seen as “sensitive,” such as houses of worship and education centers.
Despite the rules in effect, ICE officers waited outside a cold weather shelter run by Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria, Virginia, last month. At 6:45 a.m., agents detained half-a-dozen men who stepped out of the building.
Ever since then, the church's pastor, the Rev. Keary Kincannon, has been reaching out to ICE, hoping to obtain information on the men who were taken from his parish.
Claiming the community is now more fearful, Kincannon says that the Trump administration is “trying to send a message.” And as a church, he continued, our message “is that we will do what we do because God loves everyone.”
Ravi Ragbir, an activist with New York's Judson Memorial Church, says he has been traveling across the United States conducting training sessions with other church leaders to turn their parishes into sanctuaries.
“Under Obama, there was a facade of humanity,” Ragbir said. “You know that the whole goal is to get rid of as many people as possible.”
In order to help people, he continued, the community “has to mobilize to protect the church and the people.”
ICE officials might remain reluctant to forcibly enter a church, but that could soon change, Ragbir concluded. He said he fears that violence could stem from their actions in the future.
It's truly inspiring to see faith leaders gathering around this cause and taking action to help those who have been weakened by the current administration's directives. This is the type of leadership we like to see coming from our places of worship