A city church is opening its doors to undocumented immigrants, but doesn’t plan to hide them from immigration officials — quite the opposite.
“We would be public about the fact that we have a sanctuary resident, and we would, with permission, publish the details of that person’s circumstances to educate the public, and also to recruit advocacy on that person’s behalf,” said Terry Diggory, who coordinates the Welcoming Immigrants task force at Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church.
The church’s congregation voted 105-0 last month to sign a sanctuary pledge, joining more than 800 congregations around the nation that have agreed, since President Donald Trump’s election, to support immigrants facing deportation. The church’s governing board affirmed the vote on Monday.
“As faith allies, we are called to be in solidarity through rapid response mobilization to stop these raids, stop these deportations and support impacted communities,” reads a statement on the national movement’s website, sanctuarydeportation.org. “In the face of President Trump’s extremist anti-immigrant agenda we must respond with a prophetic and bold voice.”
Another local congregation, the membership at Unitarian Universalists of Saratoga Springs, voted last month to adopt the same policy, although church leaders admitted their building at 624 Broadway does not have enough space to shelter immigrants.
“To the extent our resources permit, we will work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and basic rights of all people,” reads a statement from the congregation.
The two Spa City churches are the first in the Capital Region to make a formal statement offering sanctuary to immigrants, according to a news release from Presbyterian-New England.
“We believe we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by exhibiting an extravagant and loving welcome to all, which includes serving and helping others, regardless of race, creed, immigration status, documentation, sexual orientation, place of birth and the like,” said the Rev. Kate Forer, senior pastor at the church.
Diggory said church members began sanctuary discussions in January in anticipation of increased enforcement efforts locally. The city relies heavily on immigrants to fill jobs in the horse-racing and hospitality industries. The church, located at 24 Circular St., is within a few blocks of Saratoga Race Course.
Diggory said publicizing the stories of those who seek refuge will help bring awareness to how immigrants are treated in the United States and the need for reform. He said churches are considered sensitive locations by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are therefore not typically subject to searches.
Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the federal agency, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, said personnel are directed to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations, like churches, “unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances.” Other sensitive places include schools, hospitals, synagogues and mosques.
Last week, federal agents arrested 16 undocumented immigrants near multiple homes in the city. Diggory said the church will offer a buffer between those being sought by federal immigration officials and the agency. Space inside the church’s Nolan House has been designated for housing immigrants seeking refuge.
“What we intend to do would not be an obstruction of justice,” he said. “It would be an intervention into the legal process to advocate on the individual’s behalf and make sure that all of the circumstance in the individual case are taken into account.”
Last month, Mayor Joanne Yepsen appointed a 10-member Human Rights Task Force tasked with serving as a resource to immigrants facing deportation. The task force includes Margie Ingram, a member of the congregation at Presbyterian-New England.
At a glance
These locations are considered sensitive by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are not typically searched by agents:
- Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions
- The site of a funeral, wedding or other public religious ceremony
- The site of a public demonstration such as a march, rally or parade
SOURCE: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement