Because of the government’s failure to reform immigration laws, faith leaders said Wednesday in a press call with media that they are building a new nationwide sanctuary movement and urging churches across the country to offer shelter to immigrants facing deportation.
The rebirth of the sanctuary movement began in Arizona in May when 36-year-old Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, who was born in Mexico, sought refuge in the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. After nearly a month of living in the church, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials granted Neyoy Ruiz a one-year reprieve from deportation.
Currently, Rosa Robles Loreto, a mother of two young boys, is living at the Tucson church trying to fight her deportation to Mexico. Robles said she has lived in Tucson for the last 15 years. “My goal is to stay with my husband and children because they need me,” she said in the press call today. “My struggle goes further than from my immediate family, and it is a call and a national petition so that others can also have hope and establish their lives here, where we have already lived for so long.”
Arizona, specifically Tucson, was the birthplace of the sanctuary movement in the 1980s when thousands of Central Americans fleeing civil wars sought asylum in the United States. Many of the refugees were detained in prisons then deported to their war-torn countries where the U.S. was involved in providing funding and weapons to governments and forces viewed as anti-communist. The founding of the movement is credited in part to Rev. John Fife, minister at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. Fife spurred other religious leaders to defy federal immigration laws and offer sanctuary to refugees at churches, spurring a powerful resistance movement that spread to Texas and other states.
In the press call Wednesday, faith leaders said the violence many immigrants are facing back home is just as dire as it was more than 30 years ago. They said the current movement is rapidly growing, from two churches in Arizona to 24 congregations promising sanctuary and another 60 faith-based groups offering support.
Rev. Noel Andersen, grassroots coordinator with Church World Service, a faith-based humanitarian agency, said faith leaders are reaching out to Texas congregations to join the movement but none have accepted yet. “We don’t have anyone in Texas but that could change in the coming weeks,” he said.
Rev. Alison Harrington of Southside Presbyterian said the deportations are destroying families across the country. Each day, the U.S. government deports at least 1,000 people, according to government statistics. “In Arizona we have witnessed again and again the destruction of families through inhumane deportation practices. Responding to the commands of our faith to love our neighbors, congregations throughout the state are declaring sanctuary for undocumented individuals like Rosa Robles Loreto who have final orders of deportation.”
Congressman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Tucson, blamed elected officials for failing to act on comprehensive immigration reform. “The system has to be fixed,” he said. “There’s been nothing but cowardice on the part of House leadership who won’t even allow a vote on the Senate bill that while flawed deserves a vote.” Grijalva also blamed President Obama for delaying his executive action on immigration until after the election. “It was the wrong move,” he said. “The sanctuary movement is a response to the lack of action. It is a response to the humanity of the issue. And I think it is going to be a cornerstone in pushing the decency of the American people to demand of its elected officials to do something.”
Faith leaders who took part in the announcement included: Rabbi Linda Holtzman of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Rev. Julian DeShazier of University Church Chicago, Rev. Alison Harrington of Southside Presbyterian Church, Rev. Gradye Parsons, the highest elected official in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A as well as Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona’s 3rd District.
The group said that sanctuary is currently being provided to immigrants in Phoenix, Tucson, Chicago and Portland. Churches in the following cities are providing support: Boston, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, New York, Oakland, Portland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Tucson.