2 New Haven churches to act as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants
NEW HAVEN >> Two New Haven churches, one Pentecostal and one Methodist, have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants who fear they may be deported.
Both religious communities have decided to offer short-term stays for immigrants who have an order to leave or who fear they may be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal on East Pearl Street in Fair Haven and First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on Elm Street downtown made their decisions recently as a wider network of faith communities continues to meet on the issue.
Both congregations said they are not in a position to provide long-term shelter, as neither has shower facilities in their churches.
Pastor Héctor Otero anticipated welcoming some undocumented persons for short stays as they figure out their next step.
“That is our support to the movement right now. In the future, if we have a shower, we will think about a long-term (stay), because we want to serve people,” Otero said.
He said some members of the congregation have also offered to go with immigrants to court proceedings to help with translation, as well as transportation.
“I’m trying to do my best,” Otero said.
Pastor Thomas Gye Ho Kim of First and Summerfield United Methodist Church said right after President Donald Trump announced his first iteration of an immigrant ban in January, Kim used the Gospel message to make a case to his congregation members for a sanctuary space.
“Every Christian is called to be ... the light of the world. How can we be the ... light of the world in such a time as this?” Kim said he asked them.
“I challenged my people, my congregation. It is time for us to declare we are a sanctuary church. The response that I received from my folks here was amazing. I have never received such a positive response to my sermon,” he said, laughing. “I felt a sense of fulfillment,” Kim recalled.
He said the church council voted unanimously to follow his lead and they have been attending training and organizing events since then.
Kim said in the 1990s, First and Summerfield United Methodist declared itself an “inclusive, diverse and reconciling congregation” and this latest action on the part of its 40 members is part of that tradition.
Kim, who has been pastor for the past five years, said he has been told that First and Summerfield United Methodist Church was known during the civil rights era as the “Conscience on the Green.”
“They are proud of their history,” he said.
First and Summerfield is the result of a merger in 1981 between the former First United Methodist and Summerfield United Methodist.
Located at the corner of Elm and College streets, Summerfield has a large worship space and a parlor that is part of the church’s office, which is attached to the church. Otero’s church also has a large worship space.
Kim, 57, expects other churches to follow their lead.
“As long as we are needed, we are happy to support this important ministry in a time like this,” he said.
The churches have been advised that as long as they are open about being a sanctuary church and declare who is staying there, they will not be in trouble with the law.
John Morton, the former head of ICE in 2011, issued a memo that directed his agents to avoid “sensitive locations,” such as schools, places of worship, hospitals, rallies and demonstrations, unless approved by a supervisor or to respond to “exigent circumstances.”
Not everyone is happy with the intentions or actions of sanctuary churches,
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said these efforts can only impact a few thousand people out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“This is showing off. It’s a sanctimonious display which won’t have much effect on the larger immigration issue. At least they are supporting them with their own money,” Krikorian said. “Knock themselves out.”
The center favors strict interpretation of immigration laws.
“They are saying the American people are not allowed to limit the people who come to the United States,” Krikorian said.
Beyond being a sanctuary, representatives of some 30 churches came together earlier this month to hear what other options they have. They include such things as accompanying immigrants to court or bringing food to places of sanctuary.
There already is a legal network set up and a rapid response team established that will react if arrests begin. Among the advocates and volunteer lawyers, the question is when, not if, ICE will come to New Haven.
Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights at the Center for Community Change, told the church representatives on April 9, that it was urgent to make decisions on sanctuary status in the near future.
She said residing in a church is not ideal, as it actually amounts to a form of confinement. But for those who don’t want to leave their U.S. citizen children behind, these options are important.
Matos, one of the main organizers of New Haven’s response, said how a community reacts to “human rights and social justice issues really matters. ... I always say, if we don’t mount resistance immediately and we don’t come out in defense of our community, who knows how much worse it could get.”
Otero said as critical as sanctuary is, it is equally important to raise people’s consciousness about the issue.
“We have to expand this conversation. I think we have the people and the resources to engage this battle,” Otero said. “We need to be ready.”
“Our churches are full of people, who in emergency cases, will need some type of assistance. We think this cause allows us to be noble — to unite us all in one cause,” Otero told the larger group on April 9.
Rabbi Herbert Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden, another leader along with Otero and the Rev. Paul Fleck of Hamden Plains United Methodist Church, said this moment in U.S. history “is as much about us as the undocumented. It is who we are. This is the soul of our people and our nation. I think it is really important” that faith communities get involved, he said.
The rabbi said he understands that there are almost 100,000 undocumented Canadians. “I don’t know anyone that is going after that community,” he said.
“I think this is really a lot about who we want to be as a people and how we relate to people of color, people of different faiths. I think this is a powerful reminder that there is so much that we can do,” he said.
A report by the Department of Homeland Security last year found that the largest group of people who had overstayed their visas were from Canada.
Politifact however, in talking to a senior demographer with the Pew Research Center, said that was likely exaggerated as the report tracked air and sea entries and not land crossings.
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