In the wake of the recent surge in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, churches all across the United States are offering houses of worship as a sanctuary for Central Americans.
In a drive reminiscent to 1980s sanctuary movement, where religious congregations provided refuge to thousands fleeing the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, leaders of faith have opened their doors for undocumented immigrants facing imminent deportation.
“We are willing to fight this tooth and nail,” said Rev. Fred Morris who is currently leading North Hills United Methodist Church in California. “If ICE wants to come get them, they're going to have to break down the church door.”
The escalating gang violence and growing social unrest across Central America — particularly in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — forced a large number of people to illegally cross into the U.S. borders, seeking a safe and better future for themselves and their families.
However, the nationwide deportation campaign initiated by the Department of Homeland Security has once again made them fearful for their families and livelihoods.
“What would happen if a mother from Guatemala showed up at your church door with a little kid in her arms and said, ‘Can you help me?’” said Rev. John Fife, a former pastor at Southside Presbyterian in Tucson, repeating a question he's recently posed to priests across the nation.
As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, at least three churches in Los Angeles have promised to help immigrants with deportation orders. In fact, according to Noel Andersen, a grassroots coordinator for the Church World Service group for refugees, there are now at least 50 churches in the country that have vowed to provide shelter from ICE.
However, it is only a temporary solution, since it usually takes months to appeal for and win legal relief from deportation.
“‘Sanctuary’ might sound like a meditation retreat or an artists’ residency – and it can be that at times,” explained The Nation’s Puck Lo. “But sanctuary can also be like living under house arrest for weeks, even months, confined to the grounds of a church. There’s no leaving to take a stroll or swing by the grocery store.”