Church Provides 'Sanctuary' For Illegal Immigrants

"Helping them deconstruct whiteness and privilege"

Another liberal church is teaching its congregation that breaking the law is perfectly in line with the Gospel by offering "sanctuary" to illegal immigrants.

According to The Huffington Post, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, has provided a physical safe haven for illegal immigrants facing immediate risk of deportation, a trend among churches that has more than doubled since President Trump announced a coming crackdown on illegal immigration.

“We’re living under an administration that is feeding off of a narrative of fear of the immigrant,” said Southside pastor Rev. Alison Harrington. “It’s work we don’t feel like we have a choice in. Our commandments are really clear: Welcome the stranger, work for the oppressed. God’s not like: ‘Well, if you feel like it.’”

A church declaring "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants does have an effect on the way ICE agents can conduct their jobs, with the agency having designated "churches, along with schools and hospitals and events like funerals and political protests, as 'sensitive' places that agents should avoid when carrying out arrests," according to HuffPo.

Physically housing illegals, however, is a rare extreme that has yet to happen at Southside. Mostly, the church provides them with "support through free legal clinics, coordinating child care and running the Southside Worker Center, where undocumented people get training on workplace rights."

“[Southside] does so many things ― whenever you have a need, you ask them, they help,” said illegal immigrant Eleazar Castellanos. “If they can’t, they connect you with someone who can. It’s not necessary to be undocumented or in a situation of deportation. You can go, whoever you are.”

Rev. Harrington has been contacting other churches to get them in on the act, saying that support can be provided beyond physical housing.

“We know it’s not enough to say, ‘Come to our house of worship and you’ll be safe.’ We have to also work in our communities to make sure people are safe in their workplaces, in their homes,” Harrington said. “We’re telling congregations nationally it’s not just ‘Check a box and say you’re a sanctuary and feel really good about yourself.’ How do you go meet with people in your community who are already doing the work and stand alongside them?”

Harrington admits that her church has taken a liberal position on various hot-button issues, including transgenderism and Black Lives Matter. Her church's positon on abortion and Planned Parenthood remains unclear.

“My vision is every church as a sanctuary space, defined broadly,” Harrington said. “So trans folks are welcomed, and that means having bathrooms appropriate to welcome them. And every church has a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign up front.”

“People feel like we have to do something,” she added. “[Otherwise] we won’t be able to look our grandchildren in the face.”

Harrington hopes that more white people will get involved to deconstruct their privilege.

“I think the hardest part is getting white people who are involved to appropriately engage in the work, helping them deconstruct whiteness and privilege,” Harrington said. “It’s hard; I have to constantly reflect on what is my appropriate role. A lot of times when I’ve done this work, I should have stepped back more.”

“[But] this moment is not one for ideological purity ― we have a lot of people entering the movement who haven’t been engaged before, and we can’t be shaming them for not using the right language,” she added. “Each one of us, especially who are white, have entered the work in some way ― [when] we failed, others were gracious. If we’re allies, it’s never going to be perfect, and this moment is too important to worry about perfection.”

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