Nearly 50 ministers, priests, and leaders of faith marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., today, declaring their pledge to provide sanctuary to immigrants in the community.
The march signified the launch of a network of more than 60 congregations from 17 religious traditions — Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and more — in the D.C-Maryland-Virginia area, Sanctuary DMV, that will work to provide support to those in their communities and pews who fear being profiled, detained, or deported. “Our faith will not let us permit the criminalization and scapegoating of immigrants and people of color,” the Facebook event, "Sanctuary for All, Safety for All," announced. The congregations have also committed to receiving and providing trainings for their congregants, including briefings on federal policy, "know your rights" fact sheets, rapid response, and accompaniment for immigrants going to ICE appointments.
This sanctuary launch comes in the context of rising concern over President Trump’s statements on immigration and a rise in raids by Immigration Customs Enforcement, some seeming to infringe upon directives outlined in an Obama-era Sensitive Locations Memo, which prohibits targeting schools, hospitals, sites of funerals, sites of public demonstration, and places of worship except under extenuating and urgent circumstances.
A recent ICE raid outside a Virginia church's hypothermia shelter sparked outrage that the memo was being disregarded. And last week, California's chief justice asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to stop ICE agents from "stalking" courthouses to make arrests.
ICE says it removed or returned 240,255 individuals in fiscal year 2016, nearly 5,000 more deportations than in 2015. In January, officials arrested hundreds of immigrants in coordinated raids across six states, in what marked "the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 25 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally," according to the Washington Post.
Pastor Chaim "C.J" Abramowitz Rodriguez, pastor of the Latino-Hispanic congregation at the National City Christian Church, says concerns about detainment and deportation run high in his flock.
"Many of our congregants have been directly affected by these measures from this administration," he told Sojourners. "Many are scared. Many are worried. Many know people who are undocumented. There's a general fear and they want to know that the church is a safe space where they can take refuge."
LISTEN BELOW: Pastor Chaim "C.J" Abramowitz Rodriguez
Other pastors highlighted the intersectional realities of rising detentions and deportations. Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor Metropolitan AME, explained his involvement:
"People have asked, 'Why do you stand with these people?' Because black bodies have been assaulted since we first came to this state. And they are continuously assaulted. What we know is, if we are silent when brown bodies are assaulted, when gay bodies are assaulted, when trans bodies are assaulted, when female bodies are assaulted, then all of us remain in prison and in bondage."
LISTEN BELOW: Rev. William H. Lamar IV
One immigrant at the march, a woman named Veronica, faces possible deportation on April 4. Veronica came to the U.S. from Mexico 17 years ago, seeking medical surgery for her young son Juan, who was born with a heart defect. She is married to a U.S. vet. Her story mirrors thousands of others, said Richard Morales of PICO National Network.
"There's one reason this is happening, and that's because our families are being torn apart. We as a faith community have a moral obligation to stand up against unjust laws," he said.
There is now concern that ICE raids may target self-declared “sanctuary cities.” Just yesterday, a judge in Austin revealed that an ICE sting in January was “retribution for a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that dramatically limited her cooperation with them,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.
While the term sanctuary is widely understood to mean offering physcial sanctuary, Sanctuary DMV participating congregations are pledging to offer a variety of support to immigrants and communities targeted by the Trump administration. The New York City New Sanctuary Coalition defines "sanctuary" as moral, spiritual, financial, legal, and sometimes physical support to prevent deportation. Churches participating in the sanctuary movement may offer accompaniment to ICE check-ins, legal advice during proceedings, financial aid in securing representation or childcare, or simply the spiritual and emotional support of a congregation that values each member of the body.
"We're not afraid," Morales said. "What's happening to our friends is wrong. What is happening should not be happening in this country. We're going to do everything in our power to stop mass deportations in this country."
Additional reporting by Jessica Cobian.