Sanctuary Churches Multiplying in the U.S.

ChurchLeaders | 11/27/2018 | Staff
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While recent headlines about immigrants have focused on the “migrant caravan” and border clashes, churches throughout America—and the world—are stepping up to shelter people at risk of deportation. Between January 2017 and April 2018, the number of undocumented immigrants seeking refuge in U.S. houses of worship increased six-fold. Before the 2016 presidential election, that number was about seven, according to a spokesperson with the Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program. Now it sits at about 42.

Sanctuary churches have emerged because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) generally considers churches, as well as schools and hospitals, to be “sensitive locations.” Although “enforcement actions may occur” there, they’re generally avoided, according to an ICE spokesman. That policy isn’t law, however, and it can change. For example, courthouses had been considered sensitive locations until ICE policy changed in January.

North - Carolina - Week - Samuel - Oliver-Bruno

In North Carolina last week, Samuel Oliver-Bruno left the safety of CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham when immigration officials said he had to come get fingerprinted for his application to stay in America. But when the 47-year-old Mexican man arrived at the immigration office, he was arrested and put in a van. Protesters surrounded and blocked the vehicle for two hours, many of them singing “Amazing Grace.” Police arrested 29 protesters, including eight members and a pastor of CityWell, where Oliver-Bruno had sought refuge for 11 months.

On Tuesday, Oliver-Bruno’s legal team lost its bid to keep him in the U.S. on “deferred deportation.” Now he’s in a Georgia detention center awaiting removal from the country.

Sanctuary - CityWell - Website - Church - Oliver-Bruno

At its “Sanctuary at CityWell” website, the church tells Oliver-Bruno’s story and addresses why it provided assistance. One reason is that “as a pastoral team we are compelled by scripture to offer sanctuary.” Citing passages such as Leviticus 19:33-34; Matthew 25:35, 40; and Romans 15:7, the church notes, “There...
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