Churches May Help in Fight Against Deportations

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In coordinated news conferences in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Chicago and San Diego, a group of religious congregations announced what they called a new sanctuary movement to provide help to immigrants facing deportation.

In New York, at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Pastor Gil Martinez spoke of the religious collaboration to provide legal, emotional, financial and even physical sanctuary to immigrants.

"We announce our new resolve to speak out about injustice, to no longer be silent and complicit in injustice, to welcome our brothers and sisters who are in this land with us, and to commit ourselves to welcome them in the name and the spirit of our common and diverse religious traditions," Martinez said.

At least eight New York churches signed a pledge to take a moral public stand for immigrants' rights, and prayers were offered from Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Two families seeking aid attended the service. One of them, Joe Liang, and his wife, Mei Xing, came with their two children. Liang, who is undocumented, said he had been put in detention and was facing deportation after driving with a relative who was pulled over for speeding.

"We don't want our family to be apart, and my wife and I have been here for more than 10 years already," Liang said. "We work and support our family together. Our children were born here, and we never commit any kind of crime."

The statements and prayers were strong, but it was clear that many of the congregations are just coming to terms with what they plan. For the most part, this will be a legal movement.

Several congregations made a distinction between the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, which helped political refugees from Central America flee persecution, often housing them in churches. That underground movement committed civil disobedience, and eight church activists were convicted of criminal conspiracy.

David Romerein, minister with the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Brooklyn, said his congregation is in the first steps of discussion, but he doesn't think his congregation will provide physical sanctuary.

"It's a moral stand, not a physical one," Romerein said. "We can't protect them. They have to follow the law."

Donna Shapper, senior minister of the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, said that providing physical sanctuary could happen.

"At this point, it is the new sanctuary — moral, spiritual, sometimes material, sometimes legal assistance," Shapper said. "So right now, with these families, we are going to court with them, we are getting letters for them, we are telling their stories."

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