How far is the Republican administration willing to go in its zeal to rid the U.S. of undocumented residents?
Cities that have declared themselves sanctuaries are being threatened with loss of funding by the Trump administration, and a proposed state law, Senate Bill 145, would similarly punish municipalities and state universities that fail to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
What will state and federal leaders do when a far more encompassing type of sanctuary — actual physical shelter from deportation — is offered within houses of worship?
The answer to that question could play out right here in Greensboro. On Wednesday, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church welcomed Guatemalan immigrant Juana Luz Tobar Ortega to live within its walls to prevent her deportation. Other local congregations that have hosted information sessions on sanctuary may very well follow. Since Trump’s election, the nationwide number of churches willing to offer sanctuary has doubled to about 800, according to Church World Service.
The shelter offered by religious organizations is not legally binding, but ICE generally avoids arrests at ”sensitive locations,” including houses of worship, unless the case involves national security, terrorism or public safety. But houses of worship are not excluded from the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits anyone from knowingly harboring an undocumented immigrant.
It isn’t the first time people of faith in Greensboro broke the law to do what their beliefs told them was right. Quaker leader Levi Coffin helped create the Underground Railroad, which ran through what is now the Guilford College campus, to offer both sanctuary and safe passage for slaves. Ministers at African-American churches supported the four N.C. A&T students who openly defied segregation by sitting at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960.
As the leaders of diverse faith communities in the Triad gathered on the porch of FaithAction International House on Tuesday to express their support for immigrants, there were echoes of other times and places in which leaders of different faiths, different backgrounds and different ethnicities locked arms in solidarity.
They opposed the laws of segregation then, just as they oppose the laws of immigration now.
“We as faith leaders and immigration leaders and clergy are here to say, nothing, no policy or elected official, will keep us from serving, loving and protecting our neighbors,” said David Fraccaro, executive director of FaithAction. “We are committed ... to hold ICE and our elected officials accountable for our most sacred of shared religious values, of dignity, welcoming and loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
As in the days of the Civil Rights movement, they are educating their congregations, opening their worship spaces to provide a safe place for meetings and workshops and advocating publicly for changes in policies that they regard as not only unjust but immoral, unethical and unAmerican.
Like Nestor Marchi, about whom we wrote last month, Ortega has complied with the requirements that allowed her to remain in the U.S. under a stay-of-removal order. Her status, like Marchi’s, changed abruptly under the Trump administration.
Clergy leaders twice have met with ICE officials in Winston-Salem to plead for a more compassionate approach to deportation.
“ICE has some discernment,” Fraccaro said. “It can use humanity and go after those who are truly a threat.”
Or its agents can decide to raid churches and arrest law-abiding residents whose only crime is pursuing the American dream.
It’s not too much of a stretch to believe they may do just that. Schools and public demonstrations also are considered ”sensitive locations,” under the ICE policy, but arrests of students going to and from school have caused major school attendance drops from Durham to New Mexico.
A young woman whose Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status had recently expired was arrested in what ICE called a “targeted immigration enforcement action” in Jackson, Miss., as she left a news conference during which she asked President Trump to protect her.
Faith communities rightly are stepping in to fill that role. At the office of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), where they asked for his intervention, supporters of Ortega sang, “You will know we are Christians by our love.”
Given the participation in this community, you could add Muslims, Buddhists and Jews to that list.
If we are known by our hate instead of our love, we have shamed ourselves not only as people of faith but as Americans.