sanctuary churches

Gage Skimore is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Undocumented immigrants are not flocking to sanctuary churches, even though the number of such churches are rising rapidly.

A fewer number of undocumented immigrants have taken refuge in churches even as an increasing number have been declaring themselves sanctuaries. Since the time Donald J. Trump has been elected as President of the United States in November 2016, about 400 Christian places of worship have turned into sanctuaries, pushing the number of such churches to over 800. This uptick happened after the newly elected president promised to deport undocumented people numbering in millions from United States soil.

For immigrants, the possibility of taking refuge in a church is not a welcoming one. According to Ray Ybarra Maldonado, an immigration attorney working out of Phoenix, “You need a certain mindset. You have to be a very strong-willed individual who’s willing to make that personal sacrifice to make a larger statement towards immigration law.” The lawyer, who made media headlines in defending Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, one of the first of many illegal immigrants to be deported under the Trump regime, said that it is much harder for a person to live within church protection.

The sanctuary concept has its origins in historic Judeo-Christian tradition. Present day sanctuaries in the U.S. are offered by religious communities as protest against the federal immigration policy. For undocumented immigrants, taking refuge in a church is not a desired option. This is because living like this almost equals being locked up in a prison. It will not be possible for refugees to live the life they want to live.

One such instance of taking sanctuary under church roofs is Nury Chavarria. On the surface, until now, it seems that she has taken the correct decision. The Guatemalan citizen and now mother to four children was granted a deportation stay order on August 2. She endured six nights inside the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal church in New Haven, Connecticut. Khaalid Walls, the spokesperson for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, colloquially known as ICE, said that Chavarria was granted staying rights in the U.S. “on humanitarian grounds." It also helped that she had no criminal record. ICE shone their spotlight on her after her asylum application to the U.S. Government was denied in 1993. Last month ICE told her she had one month to return to Guatemala. 


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