Back in the sanctuary business
Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church shelters local man threatened with deportation, separation from family
May 29, 2014
For a little more than two weeks now, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., has been providing sanctuary to a local man in danger of being deported. And the church will continue doing so until his case is dropped.
“It’s a lot of time and energy, but its energy we’re willing to take on behalf of this family,” said the Rev. Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside.
Southside is known as the home of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, during which churches provided refuge for people fleeing civil wars in Central America. Southside’s pastor at the time, former General Assembly Moderator the Rev. John Fife, even served prison time for violating U.S. law on harboring illegal immigrants.
Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, along with his wife and their teenage son — a U.S. citizen — entered into sanctuary at Southside on May 13. Ruiz, who came to the United States from Mexico 14 years ago, was detained in 2011 during a traffic stop. Police notified the U.S. Border Patrol, which determined that he does not have documentation. Ruiz spent a month in a detention facility and has been waiting to hear a decision about his possible deportation since.
Ruiz, who attends another local church, is being represented by a lawyer familiar with Southside’s historic sanctuary ministry. That lawyer approached the church and asked if it would provide sanctuary for Ruiz. The congregation has been supportive of the family, hosting daily prayer vigils and contacting their representatives and the Department of Homeland Security to pressure them to close Ruiz’s case, Harrington said.
“We continue to pray and to put pressure on the places we need to put pressure on to get this resolved,” she said. “We’re asking them to do what they do every single day and close this case.”
Ruiz, who has no criminal background and has held a job since arriving in the United States, is the “absolute epitome of people the Obama administration says we shouldn’t deport,” Harrington said.
Although Southside and some other local faith groups have been supportive of the Ruiz family, immigration is a divisive issue in Arizona, as is true for the rest of the country, Harrington said.
“It’s not about politics. It’s about doing what we feel our faith compels us to do. Our faith compels us to speak on issues like immigration,” she said, referring to the biblical call to welcome the stranger and care for widows and orphans. “We’ve seen so many families in our community torn apart by a broken immigration system.”
The 211th General Assembly (1999) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stated that “Faithfulness to Christ means Christians always live in tension with national values and policies . . . The provision of sanctuary for asylum seekers may be an appropriate moral response for churches even though the United States government regards this witness as illegal.”
“This denomination has a history of advocating for a just and moral immigration system,” Teresa Waggener, coordinator of immigration issues for the Office of the General Assembly, said in a statement. “The situation at Southside bears witness to the brokenness of our immigration laws and the preciousness of the lives of all who are caught up in its clutches. We pray for safety and remedy for all undocumented members of our Church.”