Introduction & FAQ: The New Sanctuary Initiative @ First Unitarian Denver

Our community partners working for immigrant justice have asked FUSD to consider becoming a host congregation in the New Sanctuary Movement. To become a sanctuary congregation, we would continue to educate ourselves and our community about immigration issues; commit ourselves to public advocacy for humane immigration reform that does not tear families apart; and possibly, at times, invite an immigrant who is facing detention or deportation to seek sanctuary (residence) in our church building for a period of time (usually 3-9 months).

The New Sanctuary Movement is a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and participating congregations, called by our faith to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States. The New Sanctuary Pledge says:

“We acknowledge that the large-scale immigration of workers and their families to the United States is a complex historical, global and economic phenomenon that has many causes and does not lend itself to simplistic or purely reactive public policy solutions.

We stand together in our faith that everyone, regardless of national origin, has basic common rights, including but not limited to: 1) livelihood; 2) family unity; and 3) physical and emotional safety. We witness the violation of these rights under current immigration policy, particularly in the separation of children from their parents due to unjust deportations, and in the exploitation of immigrant workers. We are deeply grieved by the violence done to families through immigration raids. We cannot in good conscience ignore such suffering and injustice.” (see http://www.uua.org/documents/washingtonoffice/sanctuary_issuebrief.pdf)

Yes! In the early 1980's, thousands of Central American refugees poured into the United States, fleeing life-threatening repression and extensive human rights violations by their governments. At the time, federal immigration policy would have denied the majority political asylum simply because their governments were allies of the U.S. Many of these refugees had actively participated in the liberation theology movement and naturally sought protection from congregations.

Many Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations and temples responded positively -- offering these refugees social services and advocacy support as well as engaging actively in efforts to change federal immigration policy. These congregations, united under the banner of the Sanctuary Movement, also pledged that they would not reveal the identities of these refugees, even if they were arrested or jailed for doing so.

The Sanctuary Movement was ultimately successful both in changing national policy and in protecting tens of thousands of individuals and families, enabling them to start a new life in the U.S.

Sanctuary-seekers share the following criteria—they must:

  • Be in the legal process and under an order of deportation
  • Have American citizen children
  • Have a Good work record
  • Have a Viable case under current law

If we do decide to host a sanctuary-seeker in our church, we would host her/him for an initial period of three months. After evaluating the sanctuary relationship, we would decide to either 1) extend the hosting relationship for a minimum of another three months, or 2) end the sanctuary hosting at FUSD and assist a transition to another religious organization.

At this point, discussions have been happening among the ministers and staff, the Board of Trustees, the Facilities Committee, and many other groups within the church. These groups agree that the Archives Room in the basement is the best place. We are working with those who use and maintain the archives to make sure relocating them is done with care.

Becoming a sanctuary church will cause little or no disruption to our church events and activities. We will be welcoming a new family into those activities and growing our church community.

The New Sanctuary Initiative should have little impact on our Family Promise and Women’s Homelessness Initiative (WHI). Most of the sanctuary-seekers welcome opportunities to participate in our church and social justice activities. It is likely that the new resident would join us in doing Family Promise, WHI, and other volunteer service.

We definitely would not be alone; many UU and interfaith partners will help us companion the family with material, logistical, and spiritual support. The American Friends Service Committee/Coloradans for Immigrant Rights (AFSC-CFIR) is guiding us in exploring FUSD’s possible role as a host congregation. They will continue to companion us in whatever role we decide to take.

The New Sanctuary Initiative group has been discussing the possibility of FUSD being a host congregation with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The leaders of our denomination are excited that we might become the FIRST UU congregation to become a host church in the New Sanctuary Movement (several UU congregations already participate in the New Sanctuary Movement as support congregations.

“In May 2007, the UUA became the first national religious denomination to endorse the New Sanctuary Movement. UUA President William G. Sinkford sent a statement of support that was read at events in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Chicago announcing the launch of a New Sanctuary Movement. UUA support of the New Sanctuary Movement draws upon our history of involvement with the original sanctuary movement, our purposes and principles, and recent statements by the UUA General Assembly regarding immigration. These statements strongly condemn the current immigration system, support immigration reform, and encourage support for immigrants, regardless of immigration status.” (You can read more about the UUA’s perspective here: http://www.uua.org/documents/washingtonoffice/sanctuary_issuebrief.pdf)

 

As an act of public witness, the New Sanctuary Movement enables congregations to publicly provide hospitality and protection to a limited number of immigrant families whose legal cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system while working to support legislation that would change their situation.

These families will be in the deportation process, include citizen children, have adults with good work records and have a potential case under current law. Participating congregations will offer a family hospitality for a limited period; the family will rotate from one congregation to another as needed until their case is resolved. The Center for Constitutional Rights maintains that because the family's identity will be public, the congregations will not be violating federal law.  However, this argument has not been accepted by a court. A congregation or individual making the decision to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant should consider it as an act of civil disobedience and consult legal counsel for a full explanation of the risks involved in such a decision.

  • Host an immigrant and support the family for an initial commitment. The family will use the congregation as their mailing address and will be able to spend time as needed at the site. They may need actual hospitality (a place to live) in the congregation.
  • Help with material and spiritual support for the family. There will be a larger network of individuals and congregations who will not be hosting families but will be providing material and spiritual support for families. Expert immigration lawyers will be handling their case.
  • Participate in a public witness and media relations with congregations all over the country who are hosting families. All of the host and allied congregations join in an interfaith statement of accompaniment/solidarity lifting up the human rights of immigrant families.

A large group of dedicated “New Sanctuary Initiative” enthusiasts are waiting in the wings to provide over the next few months informational resources, forums for discussion, and chances to connect with immigrant families facing separation due to mass incarceration and/or deportation. We will have numerous opportunities to learn more, ask questions, and express our thoughts about this initiative. At this point we are asking the congregation to begin the process of considering whether FUSD should become a host congregation in the New Sanctuary Movement.

Talk with someone on the New Sanctuary Initiative committee: Melany Deem, Kat Parker, Jim Harlin, Jeanne Abrams, Carol Hildebrand, Chris Wheeler, Kate Burns, Kathy Glatz, Rev. Kierstin Homblette, Jeannette Vizguerra, Jennifer Piper, Sherry Weston, Rundell Brown, and more! Ask our ministers and staff about it, too.

This is a work in progress. Please help the effort by sharing your questions with the New Sanctuary Initiative committee. We will work on finding answers and facilitating opportunities to continue the discussion about this important opportunity for our congregation to “walk our talk.”

[This document is a compilation of information from several sources, including One Family Under God by Grace Yukich, “New Sanctuary Movement at the Border Can Spiritually Transform Us” by John Fife, “Roles and Expectations for Host Congregations,” and the “UUA New Sanctuary Movement Issue Brief.”]