Sanctuary at First Unitarian
The members of First Unitarian voted to become a Sanctuary Church at the Annual Congregational Meeting on Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 11 am. See the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) below for more information on what this means for our church.
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 were 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. This was made when the congregation voted to pass the Sanctuary Resolution on June 4, 2017.
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 will not be alone. 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.
As of April 2017, here are the faith-centered groups that have pledged support:
- As Host Sanctuaries: First Presbyterian Church, Mt. Pleasant; First Christian Church, Des Moines.
- As Advocates and providing Other Support: Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, Des Moines; Downtown Disciples, Des Moines; Des Moines Intentional Eucharistic Community, Des Moines; Trinity/Las Americas United Methodist Church, Des Moines; Methodist Federation for Social Action, Iowa; and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.
- Considering being a Host Sanctuary, in addition to First Unitarian: St. Andrews Episcopal, Waverly; Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Urbandale; Ames United Church of Christ, Ames; Westminister Presbyterian Church, Des Moines.
Through the Iowa Sanctuary Movement, other Unitarian Universalist and interfaith partners will help us companion the family with material, logistical, and spiritual support. 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.
In becoming a Sanctuary host congregation we are not asking any member of the congregation nor any volunteers from support congregations to interfere with legitimate actions by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Likewise, no member of the congregation will be asked to block the legitimate exercise of an appropriate and legal arrest warrant for a person(s) living in Sanctuary in First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.
Churches are considered “sensitive” locations (along with schools and hospitals); this means that ICE will generally not enter such locations to arrest an undocumented immigrant.
From the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website:
The ICE and CBP sensitive locations policies, which remain in effect, provide that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided, and require either prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action. DHS is committed to ensuring that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation. (https://www.ice.gov/ero/enforcement/sensitive-loc)
If First Unitarian becomes a Sanctuary host congregation, our policy will be to allow ICE to enter our facility if officers present a valid warrant. We will hold multiple trainings so all volunteers will know how to identify an appropriate warrant, what to say to ICE officers, and what procedures to follow if presented with a valid or an invalid warrant.
We will develop a rapid-response system for both situations. This system will include notifying our Sanctuary guest’s lawyer, the Iowa Sanctuary Movement, the media, and volunteers via phone trees and pre-determined lines of communication. Volunteers will flock to church grounds and video all events as they occur.
It is important to understand that ICE has no authority to arrest anyone for whom they do not have a warrant. We have no plans to prevent the legal exercise of an legitimate warrant.
Staff of First Unitarian will have no responsibility for interacting with our Sanctuary guest or ICE officials, and therefore will remain uninvolved in Sanctuary decisions.
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, 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.
You can 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).