Sanctuary at First Unitarian
Sanctuary is about providing safe space to those who are victims of unjust laws.
Today, the New Sanctuary Movement is a way to be in solidarity with the undocumented community by creating safe spaces for the prophetic voices of immigrant leaders to be lifted up as we together confront unjust laws. Through the Sanctuary Movement, faith communities can powerfully enact and embody their commitment to justice. A church that declares itself a Sanctuary congregation is one willing to engage on a spectrum of solidarity actions including welcoming undocumented people, advocating to help stop deportations, assisting with legal clinics, and physically sheltering an immigrant in danger of immediate deportation.
Sanctuary is one way for faith communities to resist destructive and racially charged policies. Grounded in our core religious truths that celebrate diversity, advocate for racial justice, and honor the dignity of each person, we help create the world we envision. (Source: UUA Sanctuary Toolkit, February 2017)
More than 25 people in the Greater Des Moines Metro alone have been detained by ICE agents in the first weeks since the Trump Administration’s executive order changed the previous policy of focusing on those people who were undocumented and considered a threat to safety.
The Sanctuary Movement is playing a critical role in responding to the post-election reality wherein fear, discrimination, and xenophobia have set a new precedent in our country’s politics. With the promise of the Trump Administration to deport millions, people of faith have a moral responsibility to act. Sanctuary is a tool that helps escalate these efforts by offering our neighbors who face a deportation order safe refuge and sanctuary in our congregations. (Source: http://www.uua.org/immigration/witness/partners/newsanctuary)
While we don’t know for sure who might seek sanctuary with us, we will follow the advice and counsel of the Iowa Sanctuary Movement and the Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education (UURISE -- http://uurise.org/), which provides free consultation for Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations considering sanctuary.
There is no set time frame: it could be weeks, months or even over a year. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how quickly a Sanctuary case will be resolved, and as such a congregation must be prepared for sanctuary to last as long as needed.
Being a sanctuary congregation (provider or supporter) starts when the congregation makes the decision to do so. In our case, the Sanctuary Discernment Team at First Unitarian aims to have a resolution on the agenda at the June 4, 2017, annual meeting so all members may vote on it. A special meeting could be called at a later date if need be, however, and if 15 percent of members call for such a meeting.
Physical sanctuary starts when an immigrant takes up protective residence in the building. Sanctuary ends when the government rules favorably on the immigration case, when the person in sanctuary decides they no longer need or want to be in sanctuary, or when the guest permanently leaves the physical sanctuary of the congregation for any other reason.
At this time, it is agreed that the sanctuary seeker would live in Room 110 (currently designated as the Family Room) on the lower level of the church. Accommodations would be made to provide appropriate furnishings, use of the kitchen, and the addition of shower facilities. The Sanctuary Discernment Team is currently pursuing cost estimates associated with adding a shower.
No. Once someone enters sanctuary, they must stay in sanctuary either until they receive a positive outcome on their immigration case, they decide they no longer need/want sanctuary, or an emergency requires them to forfeit the safety of sanctuary. It is important to remember that by entering sanctuary, they have chosen to defy orders of ICE to leave the U.S., so once they have defied those orders, they must remain in the protective space. It is often helpful to think of sanctuary as a form of “house arrest” or non-prison detention. It is recommended that Sanctuary congregations find a sympathetic physician, nurse practitioner or other medical provider, or a health clinic willing to do “house calls” as needed for non-emergency issues, so that is something First Unitarian’s Sanctuary Discernment Team is looking into.
There should be little to no impact on other programming and events at First Unitarian. The person in sanctuary would have his/her own private room. Since that room is not currently used for any religious education classes, regular meetings, or part of our usual Family Promise set-up, no conflict is foreseen.
Expenses for food, clothing, laundry, medical, etc. in general are covered by the host congregation (First Unitarian), the Support congregations (other churches who want to support the sanctuary movement but can’t physically house someone), and the Sanctuary Coalition. Fundraisers, crowdfunding, and grants for justice work can help defray costs and lessen the drain on the congregation’s resources.
We definitely would not be alone, although we don’t know yet who else may offer physical sanctuary, or if any other church will. The Iowa Sanctuary Movement, also called the New Sanctuary Movement, is a growing force in Iowa, providing information and support for congregations like us who want to know what role to play in this movement. Through the Iowa Sanctuary Movement, other Unitarian Universalist and interfaith partners will help us companion the family with material, logistical, and spiritual support. Since we are currently in beginning stages of this conversation, the ways in which we can support each other in our work are not yet defined, but there are many possibilities.
Because sanctuary is most commonly provided in conjunction with a public declaration of who the person in Sanctuary is, and why they are being provided sanctuary, there is not an intent to conceal. It is also important to note that no congregations have been prosecuted for providing sanctuary in the past forty years.
The Sanctuary Discernment Team will be reviewing the full text of our insurance policy with appropriate staff to ensure we know the answer to this question. (An updated answer will be provided at that time.) In general, the toolkit provided by the UUA says that one would expect that the general liability section of a congregation’s policy would be sufficient, but it is prudent to look at the full policy to ensure it does not preclude someone “living” on site.
The UUA’s toolkit also adds:
“In the end, each congregation will need to determine what level of risk they are willing to accept. Questions to consider include:
- If the insurance company says they will deny claims related to offering sanctuary but we are unable to see how they could, are we willing to risk it and fight them in court if there is a claim?
- How many claims have been submitted under any policy in the past 5 years? 10 years?
- Is our current insurance company trying to dictate or restrict the way that the congregation’s faith manifests?”
Declaring sanctuary and providing shelter to someone in need is an act of faith and an act of justice. It is not a campaign or electioneering act. Churches are considered nonprofits, and nonprofits are prohibited from engaging in political campaign activity, which is generally determined by supporting or opposing a candidate for elected office. However, nonprofits are free to advocate for political issues and publicly criticize policies and elected officials. As such, declaring or providing Sanctuary should not have any impact on nonprofit status.
Faith communities (churches, temples, mosques, etc.) are one of the enumerated “sensitive locations” identified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as locations where immigration enforcement actions (interview, arrest, searches, and surveillance) should not occur. It is important to note that this is DHS policy, and not law. The longstanding policy was clarified in a DHS memo in 2011.11 It is unknown if DHS will change this policy in the future. The Trump administration has stated it will follow this policy.
There is a law against bringing in and harboring persons not authorized to be in the U.S. (INA Sec.274). While we are clearly not bringing people in, whether we are harboring someone is up for interpretation. Some courts have interpreted harboring to require concealment of a person. When we declare Sanctuary for an individual we are bringing them into the light of the community, not concealing them in the dark of secrecy (U.S. V Costello, 66 F.3d 1040, 7th Cir. 2012). Other courts, however, have interpreted harboring to be simple sheltering (U.S. V Acosta de Evans, 531 F.2d 428 (9th Cir. 1976).
There is risk in offering Sanctuary, however, the field practice over the last forty years shows that no congregation has been prosecuted for allowing undocumented people to find shelter and safety in their house of worship.
While it is not believed so at this time, the Sanctuary Discernment Team will explore this question in conjunction with staff, legal counsel, and our insurance company (as warranted).
A Sanctuary volunteer should be at the church with the guest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is to ensure both the safety and the comfort of our guest. If, for example, a member of the press or even an ICE agent were to come to the door, someone from our church should be there to answer the door, not the sanctuary-seeker. Being in sanctuary can also be an isolating experience for those living it, so having someone available to chat with or share a meal with, as the guest is so inclined, is also important for their well-being.
Additional volunteers would be needed to shop for the guest’s groceries, do laundry, transport family members to First Unitarian to visit with their loved one, and so forth. It will take a concerted commitment by a number of volunteers to successfully provide Sanctuary, and to do so for as long as it may be needed.
If you are interested in getting involved at this point, the discernment stage, please feel free to attend the weekly Monday night meetings at the church (scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Peace Conference Room -- check the church calendar for the latest).
As an act of public witness, the New Sanctuary Movement enables congregations to publicly provide hospitality and protection to a limited number of immigrant families whose legal cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system while working to support legislation that would change their situation.
In other words: we would not do this quietly. People who enter Sanctuary commit, as part of their witness, to be a public face for the injustices we are seeing. As a host congregation we would support the work of the sanctuary-seeker and help amplify their message.
- You may consider, as an individual, signing onto the Declaration of Conscience jointly issued by UUA and UUSC to commit to putting Unitarian Universalist values into action to resist hate, fear, and bigotry. New tools and stories will be available to signers of the Declaration and all friends and allies via the UUA, UUSC, UUCSJ, UURISE and other partners on an ongoing basis.
- This declaration is the bulk of the resolution that will be presented for First Unitarian members to vote on June 4, so we will be voting on this language and whether to become a sanctuary host congregation at the same time.
- Write or call your elected officials about issues related to immigrants’ right and keeping families together.
The Sanctuary Discernment Team will be offering a number of opportunities to learn more and ask questions. Events scheduled for March, April and May 2017 include the following (check the church calendar, Intercom weekly email, or order of service for the latest):
- Wednesday, March 22, 6:30 p.m.: Information session with Sue Huber of the Sanctuary Discernment Team
- Sunday, March 26, 9:15 and 11 a.m.: Forum on the Sanctuary Movement with guest speaker Erica Johnson from the American Friends Service Committee and the Iowa Sanctuary Movement
- Monday, April 3, 6:30 p.m.: Information session with the Sanctuary Discernment Team
- Saturday, April 15, 9-11 a.m.: Discernment Circle in Channing Hall
- Wednesdays, April 26, May 3, 10 & 17, 6:30 - 8 p.m.: Sanctuary Book Study. Learn more and sign up here.
- Sunday, May 7, 1-3 p.m.: Guest speaker Alejandro Alfariz Santiz, pastor at Las Americas/Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines, will speak about the immigrant experience, what his congregants and others in the community have experienced, and how sanctuary might be an effective tool in the fight for just immigration laws.
- Sunday, May 21, 9:15 and 11 a.m.: Mike Stimson will be share his experience as a lawyer to several DACA students in California and share an overview of our immigration system. Members of the Sanctuary Discernment Team will also be on hand to answer questions. Bring your questions, concerns, fears, and hopes.
In addition to the above dates, an information table will be in the Gathering Area on Sunday mornings and someone from the Sanctuary Discernment Team will be there to take your questions.
You can also learn more about the New Sanctuary Movement by checking out the wealth of information available on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website at http://www.uua.org/immigration/witness/partners/newsanctuary.
UUA, “Sanctuary Movement” web page: http://www.uua.org/immigration/witness/partners/newsanctuary
The New Sanctuary Movement, UUA Issue Brief: http://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/documents/washingtonoffice/sanctuary_issuebrief.pdf
Sanctuary Toolkit (Edited February 2017), sponsored by UURISE (UU Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education), UUCSJ (UU College of Social Justice), UUSC (UU Service Committee), UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association).