Reverend Fred Morris is the current spiritual leader of the North Hills United Methodist Church in California. As Rev. Morris himself attests, he is no stranger to the ongoing violence in Central American countries, since he personally survived torture and detention conducted by the military dictatorship in Brazil in 1974. In large part due to this personal experience, Rev. Morris has committed himself and his church to offering a place of safety to the refugees who are fleeing Central American violence. Rev. Morris’ actions are in direct defiance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials (ICE) who are seeking to deport the Central American refugees.
While the entire country continues to wait for Congress to finally pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the states have refrained from instituting immigration policies in recent months. However, the early months of 2016 have borne witness to the passage of the state of Pennsylvania’s decision to enact a positive immigration policy change and the state of Florida’s decision to implement a controversial immigration law aimed at denying children their education.
The Sanctuary Movement
The sanctuary movement has continued to grow across the country as cities and religious institutions begin to step in and offer refuge to those fleeing violence – many of whom are women and young children. Rev. Morris’ church is one of at least three in the Los Angeles community to promise to protect refugees from deportation.
After dying down in the early 2000s, the movement resurged in 2007, only to stall again as the country awaited comprehensive immigration reform. Now, sanctuary cities and churches seem to be gaining in strength once again in the aftermath of a dramatic surge in immigration raids conducted by ICE officials in the beginning of 2016. An estimated 100 foreign nationals from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were picked up by immigration agents and placed in deportation proceedings and detention centers.
Nationwide Outrage at Immigration Raids
Noel Anderson, a coordinator at the grass-roots level with the Church World Service (CWS), a group that helps refugees, stated that Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and non-denominational church leaders are furious at the Obama administration’s immigration raids. CWS argues that these immigration raids and the resulting deportations back to dangerous areas of Central America are violating the human rights of the refugees. Churches in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and other states are joining the sanctuary movement every day.
Is the Sanctuary Movement Legal?
Hiding a foreign national in a church doesn’t truly offer that person protection from immigration agents. However, ICE officials have been operating pursuant to an unofficial agency policy that discourages agents from entering churches, hospitals, or public schools in order to find foreign nationals who are in the U.S. without authorization.
A number of the church leaders have admitted that their sanctuary offerings may be against the law, but they defend their actions by asserting that they are answerable to a “higher” law – that of their faith. In addition to offering shelter, many churches also provide refugees with food, clothing, and access to immigration attorneys free of charge.
There is historic precedence of sanctuary, which is where asylum law originates. However, it is important to keep in mind that while these individuals seeking sanctuary may not qualify for asylum under U.S. immigration laws, it is difficult for us to develop a firm position on this form of refuge. Rather, our stance situates itself in favor of our asylum law evolving in a way that better attends to those who truly need it; waiting two or more years for asylum cases to be processed, or for those referred to immigration court, four, five or six years for an outcome, leaves much to be desired.
Additional Blog Posts:
The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012
Obama Signs Immigration Policy Memo, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012
Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012