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Churches vow to offer sanctuary to immigrants without legal docs

WiG and AP reports

A Donald Trump presidency may drive people to church.

Hundreds of houses of worship are offering sanctuary to people who could face deportation if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to remove millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

To some churches, sanctuary means spiritual support or legal assistance to fight deportation. Others promise or already are extending physical sanctuary by providing immigrants with a place to live.

In Brockton, Massachusetts — a city of about 95,000 people south of Boston — four churches have pledged to take in immigrants fearful of being deported.

“If you need a safe place, once you enter the doors of this building, you are safe,” said the Rev. Abraham Waya, pastor of Central United Methodist Church. The church can shelter as many as 100 people. “We will host you and take care of you for as long as it takes.”

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency follows a 2011 policy to generally avoid entering “sensitive locations” such as schools, places of worship and hospitals to take custody of immigrants in the country without documentation. The policy says enforcement actions can be conducted in those locations in cases of terrorism or when there are “exigent circumstances.”

About 450 houses of worship of various denominations nationwide have offered to provide some form of sanctuary — living space, financial assistance and rides for schoolchildren — said Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona.

Trump has ‘really galvanized’ church resistance

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, bar Muslims from entering the country and deport millions “has really galvanized people,” she said.

During the campaign, Trump pledged to “immediately terminate” Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has extended work permits and temporary deportation relief to more than 700,000 immigrants brought here illegally as youths.

In an interview in Time magazine in December, though, Trump adopted a more sympathetic tone toward young immigrants, saying, “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, with more than 140 congregations, has adopted a resolution calling for “holy resistance” to Trump’s immigration proposals.

In Philadelphia, a coalition of 17 churches and two synagogues said it has seen a huge uptick in 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.

Sanctuary in action

Some churches already have 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 weeks.

Javier Flores entered the United States illegally in 1997 and has been deported and re-entered several times since then. After being held in an ICE detention center for more than a year, he was released by the agency 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.

In Denver, Ingrid Encalada Latorre, an immigrant from Peru, recently took sanctuary with her 1-year-old son, Anibal, at a Quaker meeting house.

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 felony ID theft. She paid $11,500 in back taxes and completed parole, but her 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 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.”

‘Dreamers’ advised to end international travel

Immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but protected from deportation by President Barrack Obama, are being warned by some advocates to make sure they are not traveling abroad when Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

Some advocates, lawyers and universities are concerned Trump might immediately rescind an Obama program that had allowed these young immigrants to work and travel for humanitarian, educational or employment purposes.

“We are recommending all travel be completed by or before Jan. 20 in the event laws or procedures experience a drastic change,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “We wouldn’t want to expose them to an uncertain situation should they not be allowed back to the U.S.”

Trump made immigration the cornerstone of his campaign, promising to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport millions of people living in the country illegally.

His actual plans, though, have yet to be revealed.

City College, part of the City University of New York, is one of the institutions advising students in the DACA program to return before Inauguration Day. So is California State University, which told administrators to tell participants in the program “that if they are outside of the United States as of Jan. 20, 2017, there is no assurance they will be allowed to return to the U.S.”

Trump can rescind the promised protection right away through an “operational memo” because Obama implemented it through one, said William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

He said the program’s participants should not consider traveling overseas unless they absolutely need to.

Get involved

To get involved locally on this issue, go online to Voces de la Frontera at vdlf.org.