Tuesday, June 20, 2017

All Souls prepared to offer sanctuary, supported by new coalition

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 1:52 PM

All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church has formally declared itself a sanctuary church, meaning an undocumented immigrant could live in the building's basement bedroom to avoid deportation. The church's congregants, who are a diverse, nondenominational bunch, made the decision to prepare for such a scenario in late May by a near-unanimous vote. Their minister, Rev. Nori Rost, announced the result at a June 19 press conference. 

click to enlarge Rev. Nori Rost has long considered turning her church into refuge for immigrants and recently got the go-ahead from the congregation. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Rev. Nori Rost has long considered turning her church into refuge for immigrants and recently got the go-ahead from the congregation.

The downtown church is prepared to, but not currently offering, sanctuary to one immigrant at a time. The tactic hinges on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) policy to refrain from conducting raids in “sensitive locations” including places of worship. At the press conference, Alex McShiras, a local immigration attorney with the Joseph Law Firm, reminded everyone that that's a policy, not a law, so it could change at any time. He did, however, assure that he had word from ICE's field office in Colorado that its agents intends to uphold that policy.

Surrounding Rost during the declaration were other church leaders, congregants, lawyers, academics, nonprofit leaders, immigrant organizers and their children. Candace Datz, director of youth and adult ministry at First Congregational Church, introduced them as members of the newly formed Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition. The purpose of the coalition is to help the host church prepare, work with immigrant organizers to set up intake procedures and coordinate financial, legal and strategic support around the whole effort. (For a more comprehensive look at the origins and goals of the sanctuary church movement, see: "Not in our house", Cover, April 19.)
click to enlarge Other churches in the coalition include the First United Methodist Church, the First Congregational Church, and Colorado Springs Friends Meeting. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Other churches in the coalition include the First United Methodist Church, the First Congregational Church, and Colorado Springs Friends Meeting.

The coalition first began organizing after President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to step up immigration enforcement. Since then, increased deportations around the country have immigrant communities on edge, fearful that any interaction with law enforcement could trigger removal proceedings.

Karina, the young citizen daughter of an immigrant coalition member, told reporters and other listeners that she's "always nervous to see if [her] parents will come home from work or not" and that she "doesn't understand why [her] community is being treated badly [since] we’re all the same no matter the skin color or culture."

click to enlarge Karina aspires to become a psychiatrist, but in the meantime, she just wants to go to school and play with friends without worrying her parents won't be there to support her. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Karina aspires to become a psychiatrist, but in the meantime, she just wants to go to school and play with friends without worrying her parents won't be there to support her.

"
They came here to give their children, like me, a chance at a better life," she said. "We only want to live in peace."

A slight reprieve came on June 15, when DHS Secretary John F. Kelly announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, will stay in place. Instituted by former President Barack Obama in 2012, the program grants temporary work or study permits to immigrants brought over as children, specifically those who arrived before June 15, 2007, but are under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. The announcement was a surprise — since then-candidate Trump had promised to eliminate the program — but not considered totally positive, since Kelly also announced that Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, will not stay in place. That program, which was designed to grant similar protections for parents and older siblings of DACA recipients, had hung in legal limbo as a court challenge made its way up to a tie at the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that it's gone-for-good, we have a clearer sense of the administration's policy on immigrant families: children can stay but their parents have to go.

The coalition chose the day after Father's Day for that reason, Datz explained. "We absolutely believe in the importance of families remaining together and not being separated by unjust and immoral deportations," she said, adding, "Our faith traditions have much to say about the vital role of families in our communities, and we believe that each child deserves to have their parents present during their childhood."


Silvia H. introduced herself, through a translator, as "one of many people who came to this country wanting to get my family a better life." For 14 years now, she said, she and her husband have worked hard, paid taxes and raised their children, now teenagers, here in Colorado Springs. "I am not a criminal," she emphasized.

Though she has friends who have already lost a father to deportation, Silvia is hopeful now, in addition to fearful. "
Thank God that he put us in the way of these people who still believe in us and believe that we all have the same rights and the same opportunities," she said. "Thanks to the sanctuary coalition, we hope to keep families together."

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