By Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

March 27, 2017; Times-Republican (Marshalltown, IA)

A growing network of religious groups and congregations, labor unions, nonprofits and volunteers in Austin, Texas, are taking part in the rapidly growing Austin Sanctuary Network. The network is preparing to shelter immigrants at risk for deportation in the city’s churches. By doing so, they join a network of hundreds of churches nationwide doing the same.

“It’s bewildering for people at this point. It’s like trying to repair furniture when the house is on fire,” said Pastor Jim Rigby, whose congregation at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin has provided sanctuary to Guatemalan immigrant Hilda Ramirez and her 10-year-old son, Ivan, for more than a year. “Opening our arms to our neighbors goes without question.”

In Michigan, churches in Kalamazoo and Detroit are also preparing:

Rev. Jill Zundel is the pastor at Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church, which has also agreed to participate. In fact, Zundel says the church is already sheltering an African family that’s hoping to claim political asylum in Canada.

“We have a message for Donald Trump,” Zundel said. “If you want these families, you’re going to have to come through us.”

And in the D.C. area, nearly 60 congregations from 17 religious traditions are signed up:

Pastor William H. Lamar IV of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church said that he “[stands] on behalf of my ancestors, spiritual geniuses in this cruel space called America.”

“People that ask: ‘Why do you stand with these people?’ Because black bodies have been assaulted since we first came to the States,” he said. “And they are continuously assaulted. What we know is that if we are silent when brown bodies are assaulted, when gay bodies are assaulted, when trans bodies are assaulted, when female bodies are assaulted, then all of us remain imprisoned and in bondage.”

The sanctuary movement is almost four decades old, and its history can be read here or here.—Ruth McCambridge