Two New Haven churches have recently declared themselves sanctuary churches and will offer shelter to immigrants who are fearful of deportation or who have been ordered to leave the country.
Thomas Kim, a pastor at the newly declared sanctuary church First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, said he decided to preach a sermon calling on members of his church to support offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in response to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 executive order barring residents of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. Located across the street from the New Haven Green and Yale’s Grace Hopper College, the Methodist church is a diverse congregation that, according to Kim, has long been known for its civil rights activism, earning itself the nickname “the conscience on the Green” during the 1960s.
The other church, Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, is located on Pearl Street in the predominantly Latino and immigrant neighborhood of Fair Haven.
According to Kim, members of his congregation were immediately supportive of his idea to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
“I have preached for 22 years and have never received such a positive response to my sermon,” he said. “I guess all the credit goes to Trump.”
Kim added that the church has always been progressive. It became a reconciling congregation in 1990, meaning that it welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and is now the first church in New Haven to offer sanctuary.
Kim said the motivation behind these actions is faith-based, and that he seeks to encourage the members of his church to think deeply about how they can best live out the values espoused by the Bible.
“I think God is angry for what is happening here in the so-called ‘greatest country in the world,’” he said. “Even if the stranger is an enemy, you are supposed to get that person in the house. If not, that person will die overnight in the desert.”
Adeline Tucker, a lifelong city resident who said she has been a member of the First and Summerfield congregation since she switched from another church during the civil rights movement, is a member of the church’s Civil Concerns Committee and recently voted to approve the church becoming a sanctuary.
She said the church will offer short-term stays for immigrants, as the facility lacks showers and other amenities required for long-term stays. She added that the church almost welcomed its first guest recently, a man who was fearful he would be ordered to leave at his upcoming court date but who ultimately received a stay of deportation.
Tucker said church members will also provide help navigating the court system and other bureaucratic organizations and may accompany immigrants to court or to other locations to provide moral support.
“What we’ll mainly be doing is going to Hartford, to the [Citizen and Immigration Services] headquarters. We’ll go with them as a team,” she said. “That is mainly what we’ll be doing -— helping them and supporting them.”
According to Kica Matos, the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change, in addition to offering sanctuary, providing this type of legal and personal support for immigrants is extremely important.
Matos said the new presidential administration is a source of much concern for undocumented immigrants, even those who had been relatively safe under former President Barack Obama’s administration. But now, under Trump, Matos said even those who have no criminal records could likely be targeted by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
“Anyone who is undocumented is subject to deportation, irrespective of how long they’ve been in the country, irrespective of whether there are U.S. citizen kids involved, irrespective of the level of productivity and contribution these immigrants are making to the community,” she said.
Matos added that faith-based institutions have a history of serving as sanctuaries in the United States, and that churches are often spaces where immigrant families feel most comfortable.
According to Jesus Sanchez, a volunteer with local immigrant rights group Unidad Latina en Acción, immigrants should feel safe in religious spaces, as in a 2011 ICE memo, the agency classified churches as one of several “sensitive spaces” that ICE agents must avoid in all but the most extreme of cases.
Sanchez said that although ICE has not conducted a raid in New Haven since 2007, he is not sure that this trend will continue under the new administration. In fact, he said he believes that ICE may target New Haven due to the city’s actions to prevent deportations and Mayor Toni Harp’s willingness to speak out in support of undocumented immigrants.
“I personally believe it’s not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when these raids happen,” he said. “That’s why we’ve made a huge deal out of the urgency of being ready, in case it were to happen in the near future.”
According to ICE’s statistics, the agency deported 240,255 undocumented immigrants in 2016.