Three undocumented immigrants have taken sanctuary inside churches in the state of Arizona so far this year in a revival of a popular 1980s movement that tried to help undocumented immigrants fleeing from civil war in Central America. Advocates for immigration reform say that the movement is about to expand.
Activists are hoping that the sanctuary being granted to immigrants by churches ‒ where people are generally not arrested by immigration officials ‒ will become more common. The Reverend Noel Andersen, a coordinator on a nationwide grassroots level for the Church World Service, says that cities such as Denver, New York, Washington DC and Portland are starting to get organized in preparation for the possibility of churches giving sanctuary to more undocumented immigrants.
“I would say there’s close to 300 congregations out there throughout the country that are willing and ready to give sanctuary when needed,” Andersen believes. Although there is nothing stopping agents from arresting immigrants in churches under federal law, the government tends to try to avoid such practices. One such immigrant is 41-year-old Rosa Robles Loreto, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, who is facing being deported following a traffic infraction several years ago.
Robles Loreto has two young sons who stay with her in the church over the weekends. “They’re perfect examples of the families that are being needlessly torn apart every single day,” says Reverend Alison J Harrington, the leader of the Southside Presbyterian Church. “We felt compelled by our faith to welcome them into our church and shelter them and to begin a campaign to get their orders of deportation removed.”