As a rapidly-expanding number of campuses, communities, and states are joining the resistance to Donald Trump’s mass deportation efforts, faith leaders and churches are vowing to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
“If you need a safe place, once you enter the doors of this building, you are safe,” said Rev. Abraham Waya, pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Boston. “We will host you and take care of you for as long as it takes,” said Rev. Waya, whose church will be able to protect up to 100 people.
In Los Angeles, the Episcopal Diocese “has adopted a resolution calling for “holy resistance” to Trump’s deportation proposals and declaring itself a “sanctuary diocese,’” according to the AP. In Philadelphia, a coalition of churches and synagogues have signed up more than 1,000 volunteers — a jump from 45 volunteers in May — to offer support to immigrants.
About 450 houses of worship of various denominations nationwide have offered to provide some form of sanctuary, including living space, financial assistance or rides for schoolchildren, said Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona.
Immigrants have been fearful for decades, particularly as deportations increased during the Obama administration, said Harrington, who is involved in the sanctuary movement on a national scale. But Trump’s campaign promises to build a wall along the Mexican border, to bar Muslims from entering the country and to deport millions “has really galvanized people,” she said.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, with more than 140 congregations, has adopted a resolution calling for “holy resistance” to Trump’s immigration proposals and declaring itself a “sanctuary diocese.”
In Philadelphia, a coalition of 17 churches and two synagogues said it has seen a huge uptick in the number of volunteers for a program offering support to immigrants when ICE raids their homes. The program had 65 volunteers in May. In the two weeks following Trump’s win, more than 1,000 new volunteers signed up, said Peter Pedemonti, executive director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.
“We know that we’re in a different historical moment right now and that our faith compels us to take increasingly bold actions,” Harrington said.
Some churches have already made good on their promises.
In Philadelphia, a 40-year-old man from Mexico has been living in the Arch Street United Methodist Church for three weeks.
Javier Flores entered the U.S. illegally in 1997 and has been deported and re-entered several times since then. After being held in an ICE detention center for over a year, the agency released him for 90 days so he could prepare for deportation. He did not want to be separated from his wife and three children, so he sought refuge, said the Rev. Robin Hynicka, senior pastor.
“For us, we feel it’s a moral obligation to keep families together,” Hynicka said.
Ingrid Encalada Latorre, an immigrant from Peru, took sanctuary last week with her year-old son, Anibal, at a Quaker meeting house in Denver.
Latorre, 32, has exhausted appeals of a deportation order and is awaiting a decision on a final, discretional appeal to immigration officials in Washington.
She left her native Cusco, Peru, in 2000 to join an aunt in Colorado, where she found work as a dishwasher, cared for kids, cleaned homes and worked at assisted living centers, she said. In 2002, she bought fake papers from an unscrupulous street seller.
She was arrested in 2010 and pleaded guilty to a felony ID theft charge. She paid $11,500 in back taxes and successfully completed parole, but her guilty felony plea brought her to ICE’s attention. Advocates arranged for LaTorre and Anibal to stay in the meeting house.
Anibal, a U.S. citizen, is being treated at Denver’s Childrens Hospital for a congenital twisted neck condition; her other son, 8-year-old Bryant, is also a U.S. citizen and attends a bilingual school in suburban Westminster.
“I have lived half of my life here,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. Just fight and keep going.”