Members of Congress, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), wrote President Joe Biden a letter asking him to ensure those taking sanctuary in houses of worship would be protected from deportation. They also asked the Biden-Harris administration to lift the deportation orders against all people living in sanctuary.
Rep. Castro, 27 other House members, Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren (both D-Mass.), sent the letter on Jan. 26, 2021, the same day that a federal judge in Texas blocked the president’s order to halt deportations for 100 days. While the Biden administration is expected to appeal U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton’s decision, deportations can continue for the next 14 days nationwide.
“Immigrants in sanctuary, along with the faith communities that support them, have been working hard to change our broken immigration system for many years,” said the letter, which was also signed byReps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “Those in sanctuary have worked tirelessly with us as Members of Congress, and have sought to meet with your transition team, to highlight the need for immigration reform to include immigrants facing unjust deportation orders.”
Since the 1980’s, undocumented immigrants in the U.S. facing deportation have taken refuge in houses of worship. While there is no legal protection places of worship can provide, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement maintains a policy to not perform arrests at “sensitive locations” like “churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions of worship.” The letter requested the Biden administration direct I.C.E. to grant a stay of removal to each person in sanctuary by Feb. 12, 2021 and lift each deportation order by the end of the administration’s first 100 days in office..
“Our houses of worship must also be houses of hope for everyone who finds refuge in them. I am proud to stand in solidarity with the five individuals in Massachusetts, and nearly 40 across our country, who are currently seeking refuge in sanctuary churches. It is long past time to provide dignified and lasting protections to these individuals and families,” said Sen. Markey in a news release. “I am hopeful that President Biden will help safely open the doors of our sanctuary churches and open the pathway to citizenship for these brave individuals.”
In a complaint filed on Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state would face irreparable harm if the deportation freeze was allowed to go into effect. Paxton, a Republican, said it would increase education and healthcare costs as more immigrants remained in Texas illegally.
Approximately 1.2 million immigrants in the United States have final orders of removal, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Reuters.
As of Jan. 16, ICE was holding around 6,000 detainees with final deportation orders, the spokeswoman said.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.