In October, my faith community, Umstead Park United Church of Christ, opened its doors to Eliseo Jimenez, an undocumented father of four, to provide sanctuary for him while his legal case plays out. Churches are one of the “sensitive locations” ICE traditionally has had a policy of considering off-limits in their immigration raids, so our congregation decided to join the fight to keep Eliseo united with his family and help him avoid possible detention and deportation. I’m happy to say that our members overwhelmingly supported this decision.
Immigration is an issue close to my heart. Years ago, an undocumented friend and coworker was pulled over by police for a broken tail light. Upon discovering he was undocumented, the officer immediately took him to jail, where he was subsequently sent to a detention center, detained for 5 months, and eventually deported to Mexico. All for a tail light being out on his car. Trivial things we citizens don’t think twice about – tail lights out, exceeding the speed limit, driving and everyday actions in general – are potential life-upending tragedies for our undocumented neighbors and coworkers. A friend’s six-year-old son suffers panic attacks in the car every time he sees police, because he knows they could be pulled over at any point and his mother could be taken from him. This is all fundamentally unjust and wrong. It’s crucial to support and stand with our undocumented brothers and sisters in the fight for rights and just treatment; not doing so is a failure to acknowledge how much our lives are benefited by their presence here: our economy, our communities, and our way of life are all enriched by the presence of undocumented immigrants in them.
For many of us at Umstead Park UCC, offering sanctuary is a matter of faith and commitment to our principles. The Bible clearly commands us to “welcome the stranger.” For those of us with children, it shows them how we live our values through our actions. As a mom, it appalls me that American immigration policy actively works to separate parents from their children. My family quickly developed a deep affection for Eliseo, his partner Gabriela, and their children – and I cannot imagine why our country feels that it is good policy to tear families like theirs apart simply because Congress cannot get its act together to pass meaningful reform.
I encourage other churches to consider offering sanctuary to undocumented members in your communities. You will find, as we have, that you gain so much more from your sanctuary family than they gain from you. It is an uplifting, spiritual experience of connection with people you would never otherwise have known. Sanctuary is crucial in the fight for immigration reform, providing a safe space to lift up the voices and stories of the undocumented. They have spent far too long living silently in the shadows. These are voices and stories that need to be told, to dispel the numerous myths and falsehoods the powerful in America use to advance an agenda of bigotry and intolerance. Sanctuary has given my congregation a chance to truly “walk the walk” in our faith, and we are so grateful for this opportunity we’ve had to make a difference for Eliseo and his family.