The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is, and has been for decades, on the front lines of protecting asylum seekers in danger of deportation, and Wednesday the denomination reaffirmed its commitment by standing in solidarity with the Sanctuary 2014 movement.
The coalition of faith and immigration communities gathered for a national teleconference to spotlight the growing network of congregations committed to offering sanctuary, and to challenge the United States government to stop deportations. Sponsors of the call included the PC(USA), Church World Service, PICO National Network, Philadelphia New Sanctuary Movement, and Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition.
“Those at risk of deportation are known and beloved in our communities. They are our friends and family, our church members and colleagues,” said Teresa Waggener, coordinator for Immigration Issues and an Assistant Stated Clerk for the PC(USA). “Our lives are inextricably intertwined. We wear the same garment of destiny.”
“The congregations involved in sanctuary are living out their love of neighbor by protecting families vulnerable to separation,” she said, speaking on behalf of the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “This denomination has a history of supporting churches that find sanctuary to be a moral response.”
Presently 24 congregations across the nation, including Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, and University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona, have committed to providing sanctuary as part of the Sanctuary 2014 movement. Additionally, about 60 congregations are supporting sanctuary.
Southside Presbyterian Church, referred to as the birthplace of the sanctuary movement because of its work in the 1980s, is currently sheltering Rosa Robles Loreto, who has lived in a room in the church for more than 45 days.
The wife and mother of two has made a home in Tucson for 15 years, yet now has a deportation order. Wednesday she spoke poignantly through an interpreter about not being able to care for her boys who are 11 and 8 years old, are U.S. citizens, attend public school, and enjoy playing baseball.
Their lives have been changed through this ordeal, said Loreto, who does not leave the church grounds. “My goal is [for us] to be able to stay together.”
Her hope also is for fellow deportees—people who have worked, paid taxes, and want to be exemplary citizens, she said. “My struggle goes further than my immediate family.”
Waggener said every day 1,000 people are deported from the U.S., and three-fifths of the undocumented persons in the country have been here more than 10 years.
The Reverend Alison J. Harrington of Southside Presbyterian Church said her church is helping turn the tide in Arizona, which has been in the spotlight for its anti-illegal immigration legislation.
“In Arizona we have been on the front lines,” the pastor said. “Every day this movement is growing.”
University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Arizona, also is providing sanctuary to Luis Lopez Acabal, who lives under a deportation order.
The Sanctuary 2014 movement is technically being rebirthed from an interfaith effort that began in the 1980s when civil war displaced 1.5 million Central Americans. When petitions for asylum were denied by the U.S. government, faith bodies began offering refuge. The Reverend John Fife and Southside Presbyterian were among those providing sanctuary.
The movement’s current revival was precipitated by the failure of the U.S. government and the Obama administration to act either on comprehensive immigration reform or “administrative action” as a form of relief.
“After the president’s announcement on September 6 to again delay administrative relief to those at risk of deportation, faith bodies began to question the morality of waiting and bearing the daily loss of our brothers and sisters any longer,” Waggener said. “And so here we are.”
Sanctuary is being provided to persons who do not meet the enforcement priorities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; persons who would have qualified for relief from immigration reform had Congress passed such relief; or those who would have qualified for relief from administrative action by President Obama.