Sanctuary Churches and Their Legality in US

United States of America are practicing their “zero-tolerance” immigration policy which includes charging everyone who attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Among other risks such as human trafficking, illness, etc. immigrants are also facing this cruel anti-immigration policy, and in an attempt to avoid all of this they are looking for safe place or sanctuary wherever possible.

As an answer to high number of immigrants and this “zero-tolerance” policy, many congregations are adopting so-called “sanctuary church” programs in an effort to help or support undocumented immigrants in the community. The Sanctuary movement was a religious and political campaign in the United States in the early 1980s, created in order to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict, now this practice is coming alive.  Different churches are providing sanctuary in different ways. Some of them are providing legal advice; some of them are providing a living space while others are providing other services, meals, doctor visits, etc.

Trump and his administration have decried the concept of sanctuary programs, and they have also threatened to rescind federal funding from those places. But the big question is whether this practice is legal? According to Fox News, The American Civil Liberties Union warns that federal law prohibits the harboring or transporting an undocumented immigrant while knowing of his or her legal status.

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"There is a law against harboring people who are here illegally and shielding them from deportation," Jessica Vaughn, director of public policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tighter immigration restrictions, told Fox News. "Most churches that are acting as a 'sanctuary' are very careful to avoid breaking that law," she said, adding that for many churches, the "point is to make a political statement" about immigration laws.

Those who provide sanctuary in their safe places are aware of the legal status of undocumented immigrants residing under their roof; therefore they are acting against the federal law. It is true that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has “sensitive locations” such as churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other places of worship; and ICE agents typically avoid carrying out enforcement actions at this places, according to the federal agency. But this ICE’s protocol on sensitive locations provides no absolute protection and while there is certainly some level of safety, there is no such thing as sanctuary from ICE. Their agents can raid the church, for example, and everyone acting against the federal law can be prosecuted. The example for this are so called “Sanctuary trials”, which took place in 1980s, when the court found eight Sanctuary movement members guilty on smuggling charges.

Photo Credits: Pixabay

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