Clergy from more than 30 congregations in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota vowed Tuesday to shelter immigrants facing deportation or to support other churches that do.
Church leaders said they are forming a new network of sanctuary places of worship in response to President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to step up deportations when he takes office in January. Organizers with the group ISAIAH said 13 churches have committed to shelter and feed immigrants in defiance of immigration authorities. About 20 additional congregations will provide financial and other support.
“We will not let politics come before the sacredness of people,” said JaNae’ Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and communications director for ISAIAH. “As a human being, you are sacred so you should be safe in our sacred space.”
The news conference, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, came amid a larger debate about what’s become known as the sanctuary movement. Minneapolis and other sanctuary cities — which generally prohibit local law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status and only collaborate with immigration authorities in limited cases — have also struck a defiant note. Efforts are underway to declare local colleges and universities as sanctuary campuses.
Meanwhile, opponents of the sanctuary movement have trained a spotlight on high-profile crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally who had previous convictions; they have cheered Trump’s campaign promise to work with Congress to block federal funding to cities that do not fully cooperate with immigration authorities.
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who has called for a tougher stance on immigration enforcement, said he is troubled by the church announcement.
“We have this thing that guides us in the United States called the rule of law,” he said. “When we have organizations defying the rule of law, it undermines our democracy and weakens our state.”
Since his election, Trump has scaled back a campaign trail pledge to deport all immigrants in the country illegally. He has said that, at least initially, he would focus on removing immigrants with criminal convictions. Some sanctuary congregations could find themselves grappling with whether to extend a welcome to immigrants who have completed sentences for serious offenses — decisions that Bates said each congregation would make independently.
At Church of the Redeemer, pastor James Erlandson said the group needs to work out in the coming weeks what congregations would do if an immigrant with a serious criminal conviction takes them up on the offer of shelter: “We want to keep our churches and communities safe as well.”
‘We have been woken up’
Trump’s more recent statements also echo the approach of the Obama administration, which has deported a record number of people. But clergy argued a ratcheting up of rhetoric on this year’s campaign trail spurred the formation of the network now.
“Many of us standing here have been asleep, and we have been woken up by the terror and the fear that immigrants are feeling now,” said the Rev. Grant Stevensen, an ISAIAH staff member. “We intend to stay awake.”
Deepinder Mayell, of the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, said immigration agents with a search warrant can detain immigrants on church premises. But he points to a 2011 memo that has advised agents to use special caution in “sensitive locations” including houses of worship and schools, and has required them to obtain approval from top officials before conducting searches and arrests there.
The incoming administration can scrap these guidelines, says Mayell, who is organizing an informational event about sanctuary cities and campuses at the U later in December.
“We are all figuring out what sanctuary will mean in this new kind of environment,” he said.
St. Paul video goes viral
The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis have said they won’t abandon ordinances limiting cooperation with immigration authorities, which they argue ensure that immigrants are not afraid to come forward when they are victims or witnesses to crimes. Videos recently posted by the St. Paul Police Department telling residents in several languages not to be afraid of calling the police have gone viral.
Meanwhile, a movement to declare colleges and universities in Minnesota and nationally as sanctuary campuses has been gaining steam. At the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff signed a petition urging officials to prevent campus police from cooperating with immigration authorities and provide legal counsel to immigrant students facing deportation. The petition also calls on the U to commit to helping find jobs for students who would lose their work permits if Trump ends an Obama administration deportation reprieve program for young people brought to the country illegally as children.
In a written response last week, University President Eric Kaler promised the university would support immigrant students regardless of their immigration status. But he stopped short of committing to the petition’s specific requests, saying his administration needs more information on what the Trump government will actually do.
“Be assured that the university will stay true to its values and advocate for our undocumented students, international students and all members of our community,” wrote Kaler.