Monday, May 14, 2007

Churches offer sanctuary to immigrants

L.A. cathedral among those making statement about U.S. immigration policy.
By Peter Prengaman, Associated Press
Long Beach Press Telegram
Article Launched:05/09/2007 09:33:45 PM PDT
LOS ANGELES - Churches gave sanctuary Wednesday to two men from Mexico and Guatemala to protect them from deportation and launch a nationwide effort to pressure lawmakers to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

More than 30 priests, pastors, imams and rabbis blessed the men during a raucous ceremony attended by 300 people at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in downtown Los Angeles.

"We are here to raise our voices for those who can't raise their own," said Pastor Cesar Arroyo of San Pablo's Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, which will house the man from Guatemala.

Each of the immigrants had two children in tow as they sat in front of the altar.

The Guatemalan, a gardener who only gave his first name as Juan, said he worried about what might happen to his young daughters if he was deported. Both girls are U.S. citizens because they were born in this country.

"I want to ask the politicians to see the suffering of the immigrant families," he said.

The 44-year-old Mexican, who only gave his first name as Jose, will live at the downtown church. He sat next to his two teenage sons who dressed in the latest American fashion and spoke more English than Spanish. They are also U.S. citizens.

Jose said he had been in the country 17 years, working as a cook at Los Angeles International Airport until he was injured and his immigration status was revealed.

After the ceremony, he went to his room in the church, which has a single bed, sink and toaster oven.

"I'm going to stay here until this is resolved," he said, referring to his deportation order.

Organizers don't believe immigration agents will make arrests inside the churches.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has not tried to arrest Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant who has taken shelter at a Methodist church in Chicago since August.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice declined to say if agents would attempt to arrest others who take sanctuary in churches, but said agents have "the authority to arrest those who are in violation of our immigration laws anywhere in the United States."

Participating faith groups in San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and New York won't initially house illegal immigrants. Instead, leaders will provide legal council, accompany people to court hearings and prepare plans to house them in churches if authorities try to deport them.

Organizers said churches in more than 50 cities nationwide were planning to join the sanctuary effort.

Anti-illegal immigration groups called it misguided.

The faith groups "don't seem to realize that they are being charitable with someone else's resources, and that's not charity," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors limits on immigration.

The "New Sanctuary Movement" is loosely based on the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, when churches harbored Central American refugees fleeing wars in their home countries. Several activists in a handful of states were arrested, often while transporting illegal immigrants from one place to another.

New Coalition of Christians Seek Changes at Borders
Congregation to Give Haven to Immigrants
href=",1,5723653.story">Giving Shelter from the Storm of Immigration

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