Seeking sanctuary in New York

Changes in immigration enforcement priorities has created uncertainty and fear among many, especially immigrants without legal authorization to remain.  It is believed that some small number of them have sought refuge in churches around the country as ICE generally defers from entering houses of worship.

The story of sanctuary seeker, Amanda Morales Guerra,  was recently highlighted in several media outlets.

NPR carried the story;

An Episcopal church in Upper Manhattan and housing a Guatemalan woman that reads risk of deportation.  Hollyrood church took in Amanda Morales [Guerra] who says she’s lived in the country illegally since 2004 yesterday.  Her 3 children, who are U.S. citizens, are also with her.  Morales said immigration authorities have told her she would be deported. 

A Immigration Enforcement spokesperson in New York declined to comment on the case.  Authorities generally do not enter places of worship to make arrests or detain individuals

From the New York Times

On Thursday, instead of showing up at her immigration check-in with a nonstop ticket to Guatemala, as she had been told to do, Amanda Morales Guerra, 33, walked into Holyrood Episcopal Church-Iglesia Santa Cruz in Washington Heights. She did not know when she could emerge again.

Local clergy estimate that more than a dozen people around New York City have quietly been hiding in churches to avoid deportation from federal immigration agents since the Trump administration began, but Ms. Morales was the first to publicly seek sanctuary.

“Sincerely, I don’t want to abandon my children,” she said in Spanish, sitting on the floor of the rectory library, where she and her three young children would also sleep. “I’m doing it for them because I love them and I would die if something happened to me or my children.”

The priest in charge at Hollyrood church is the Rev Luis Barrio, ordained twenty-six years ago, only recently came to Hollyrood, leading them to join the sanctuary movement.

After Father Barrios, a native of Puerto Rico, was installed six months ago, his church joined the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, an interfaith immigrant rights organization based on a 1980s movement to take in Central American refugees. So when he got the call on Aug. 11 that someone needed sanctuary, “the church was ready,” he said.

Though the sanctuary movement has plentiful critics, one supporter is the Bishop of New York, Rt. Rev. Andrew ML Dietsche who released this statement in response to the media attention.

The Episcopal Diocese of New York has numerous Latino/Latina congregations, and thousands of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries who worship at our altars and live as our brothers and sisters in sacred communion. In April I wrote a letter to the diocese encouraging parishes to protect their members who may be in danger, and to provide legal and pastoral resources to assist undocumented people in the actions they may be facing.  I asked our parishes to explore the possibility of sanctuary, and the different forms that sanctuary might take. My colleague, Bishop Mary Glasspool, gathered resources for churches which may be found on our diocesan website.

It is our conviction that decisions made to offer sanctuary must be made at the local, parochial level, and we know that what “sanctuary” means will differ from community to community. I have made it clear that I will in every case respect the pastoral decisions and judgments made by the clergy and leaders of our parishes in their care of their people. Providing safe refuge inside the church is only one of those possibilities, but it has a long and noble history in the Christian church. In America, government agencies have generally respected the sanctity of the church threshold.

Yesterday, Holyrood Parish in Washington Heights held a press conference in which they announced that they were providing sanctuary refuge in the church to an undocumented immigrant and her American-born children. I am not unmindful of the risks that this means both for the parish and for the sanctuary family. Yet in the changing landscape regarding immigration and deportations in which we find ourselves, I believe this is a well-considered choice marked by integrity and faith. The clergy and people of Holyrood Parish have my full support, the support of this diocese, and this imperiled family has my prayers.


image: The Rev. Luis Barrios  with Amanda Morales and her three children in Hollyrood church. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

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