Think Progress posted a great piece a couple weeks ago about a church in Tucson that has given “sanctuary” to an undocumented immigrant. Tiny Southside Presbyterian Church in Tuscon, Arizona, (photo above) took in a woman named Rosa Imelda Robles Loreto, (photo left) who was scheduled to be deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE) August 8.
Rosa has been living in the U.S. since 1999. Her husband and two sons are also undocumented, but it is only Rosa who is being deported. (I’m guessing the way it works is immigration deports one parent hoping the rest of the family will self-deport?)
This is the second time this year Southside has given “sanctuary” to an undocumented immigrant. Last May, the church protected a man named Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, who has lived here for fourteen years. Daniel was pulled over for a smoking tailpipe, and fell victim to Arizona’s “papers please” law that allows law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of anyone they suspect might be in the state illegally. He was detained and scheduled to be sent back to Mexico.
Daniel (photo right) spent a month at Southside while members kept up a 24-hour vigil with him in the church. Church members lobbied the media and politicians on Daniel’s behalf. They found him legal advisers. In the end, Southside prevailed. ICE granted Daniel a one-year stay of his deportation order. Alison Harrington, the church’s pastor said the church is hoping for a similar happy ending for Rosa, telling reporters:
“The beautiful thing about offering sanctuary is that we can actually do something. We have the ability to stop a family from being torn apart.”
Rev. Harrington has ambitions beyond sheltering one or two immigrants. She is trying to reactivate the Sanctuary Movement from 1980s, when Ronald Reagan faced an influx of Central American war refugees looking for asylum.
If you are too young to remember that fractious period, the U.S. was up to its CIA eyebrows instigating unrest in that part of the world, yet the Reagan administration labeled immigrants from Central America “economic refuges” and granted very few of them asylum. So a group of churches in the border states began offering them sanctuary. They made no secret of whom they harbored, daring law enforcement to raid a “house of God”, which police rarely did. (Although to raid or not to raid was a frequent plot line on the police dramas that were popular in that era.) That reluctance may hold true today. Rev. Harrington says she has a promise from local law enforcement that they will not enter the church looking for someone whose only crime is a customs violation.
Eventually, a kind of immigrant underground railroad formed across the U.S. which helped pressure congress into passing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. By the way, the church that started the 1980s Sanctuary Movement? Southside Presbyterian.
Southside has formed its sanctuary strategy around a 2011 memo by a former director of ICE, ordering staff to use “prosecutorial discretion” when deciding which cases to pursue. It tells agents to place a lower priority on the deportation of immigrants who have long-standing community ties, no criminal record, or have children. Southside plans to offer protection to immigrants who fit that criteria. But it occurred to me sanctuary churches are in a perfect position to make the “religious freedom” argument that worked so well for Hobby Lobby.
“We seek to follow Christ who commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves and also to offer radical hospitality to those in need. The scriptures tell us to care for the widow and the orphan, and our immigration system creates widows and orphans every day … So we are standing by undocumented families and not allowing them to be torn apart.”
That sounds like a firmly held religious belief to me, does it not?
And therein lies the dilemma for the Rush Limbaugh crowd who love, love, love the religious freedom exemption when it comes to gays and sexually active women. Are they going to love, love, love it if Southside succeeds in reviving the Sanctuary Movement and hundreds of immigrant families are sheltered inside Christian churches? Are they going to demand the government raid the churches and apprehend the “lawbreaking illegals” they have such contempt for? Or are they going to defend the principal that those with firmly held religious beliefs should be exempt from laws that offend them?
Today, the firmly held beliefs of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tuscon, Arizona are On Our Radar.