Advocates for illegal immigrants are eyeing Arizona, where a movement that encourages churches to shield illegal aliens from federal authorities is quietly growing. It is a movement advocates hope could serve as a model for illegals across the nation seeking to stay in the United States.
So far this year, three illegals have taken refuge in Arizona churches, refusing to submit to ordered deportations. Church officials who hope to launch a nationwide effort of like-minded churches are shielding these immigrants.
Rev. Noel Andersen, a national grassroots coordinator for Church World Service, recently told the Associated Press that churches of several denominations in at least four major cities are preparing to emulate Arizona churches in the sanctuary movement.
“I would say there’s close to 300 congregations out there throughout the country that are willing and ready to give sanctuary when needed,” Andersen said on September 9.
Immigration officials are loath to barge into American churches to serve deportation orders, so illegals feels safe inside them.
Showing how delicate such a situation might be, in April, a Pima County Sheriff arrested several illegal aliens standing on the steps of a Catholic Church in Ajo, Arizona, a town 130 miles southwest of Tucson. The incident caused quite a controversy as church officials decried the officer for “stepping over the line” and apprehending the illegals on church property.
This method of hiding illegal immigrants is not new. The campaign of forcing the federal government to allow particular illegals to stay in the U.S. by hiding them in churches was used to effect in the 1980s when several South and Central American countries erupted in civil unrest. Then, many illegal immigrants feared the roaming death squads that killed thousands.
Advocates today hope to recreate that success.
One illegal in Arizona, 41-year-old Robles Loreto, is becoming a face for this hoped-for movement. Loreto was ordered deported after a traffic infraction four years ago, but after fighting the order for some time, this year, she fled to the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson in an attempt to avoid her impending deportation.
The church’s Rev. Alison J. Harrington said that Loreto is a “perfect example” of “the families that are being needlessly torn apart every single day” by American immigration policies.
“We felt compelled by our faith to welcome them into our church and shelter them and to begin a campaign to get their orders of deportation removed,” Harrington proclaimed.
Organizers hope that they can use Loreto’s situation as an example to other states.
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