Sanctuary in the age of Trump: Coming to a church near you

Celebrate the Season with First Congregational Church
December 14, 2016
Riverside church offers sanctuary to immigrants at risk of deportation
June 16, 2017

Rev. Jane Quandt of First Congregational Church,is pondering the thought that some churches are passing resolutions, creating physical sanctuaries for the undocumented or providing legal services to those at risk of being deported in Riverside, CA. Friday, Mar. 10, 2017. TERRY PIERSON,THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE/SCNG

Jane Quandt, senior minister at First Congregational Church of Riverside, is aware of the challenges that arise when a church offers sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
But she’s willing to take that risk.Her church would need to install showers. It would have to partner with community groups to provide food and other essentials. Discussions would need to be held with church members who may not agree with housing undocumented immigrants.It also needs to pinpoint which immigrants are at risk.
“It’s difficult right now because the processes are all up in the air. It’s not clear who’s vulnerable to being deported. Seems like they all are,” she added.
Churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship are increasingly interpreting providing sanctuary to mean they should potentially give shelter to people who might be here in violation of the law and therefore subject to arrest as part of President Donald Trump’s push to step-up immigration enforcement.
In some cases, a house of worship can double as an immigrant’s home. In others, congregants might shield undocumented immigrants and their families in their homes. In still others, churches and others help would-be deportees pay for legal aid, or sponsor workshops offering information on immigrants’ rights and how to respond if one is arrested by immigration agents.
It’s not clear if physical sanctuary — in a church — will continue to provide much protection. Immigration officers generally have avoided entering sensitive locations, such as churches, to make arrests. While that’s been formal policy since 2011, there’s no law that prevents an immigration arrest in a church.
What is clear is that sanctuary is a tricky thing for a church to offer. There are issues of practicality and adequate physical space to house immigrants. There are liability questions. And, for many churches, there is the possibility of angering or offending members of the congregation who don’t see any push to step up immigrant deportations as something to be resisted.

By Alejandra Molina and Brenda Gazzar / Staff writers