Local congregations form Central New York Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition

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By Renée K. Gadoua

Contributing writer

All Saints Church in Syracuse has prepared a space to shelter an undocumented immigrant challenging the deportation process. The parish announced its status as a sanctuary church December 11, as leaders introduced the Central New York Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition. Four Central New York congregations, two of them Catholic, say they will support immigrants seeking sanctuary while at risk of deportation because they are in the United States illegally.

   Providing sanctuary is “being faithful to our mission to welcome the stranger and to defy unjust laws,” Father Fred Daley, All Saints pastor, said in a media statement.

   The coalition includes St. Lucy’s Church, University United Methodist Church, and Plymouth Congregational Church. The three Syracuse congregations have committed to support people in sanctuary, and several other religious communities are considering joining the coalition.

   Bishop Robert J. Cunningham has not commented specifically on local sanctuary parishes or U.S. policies about immigrants in the United States without documentation. But in a February 5 homily, he said Catholic teaching calls for people “to support [refugees and exiles] with our prayers and raise our voices against unjust practices directed at them.”

   Bishop Cunningham’s comments at the Mass in Solidarity with Refugees and Exiles followed President Trump’s executive order limiting refugees’ admission to the United States. He noted a “responsibility to protect borders” and the need for appropriate vetting procedures. “However, blanket refusals to allow immigrants from a given nation, ethnic or religious group to enter our country is un-American and un-Christian,” he said.

   Catholics “are called by our faith to do justice and to welcome the stranger” and join immigrants “to openly and willingly place ourselves in conflict with the law,” Father Daley said in a statement.

   Mayor Stephanie Miner in January 2017 declared Syracuse a sanctuary city, saying city police would not be directed to enforce federal immigration laws. Mayor-elect Ben Walsh, who takes office in January, has not committed to continuing the city’s sanctuary status, although he has pledged to “do everything in my power to support and protect everyone who calls Syracuse home.”

   President Trump has vowed to deport the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. He signed an executive order in January saying he would halt funding to municipalities that did not cooperate with federal immigration officials. A federal court in November issued a permanent injunction blocking that executive order.

   More than 500 municipalities are so-called sanctuary cities and have policies that limit the extent to which law enforcement will assist the federal government on immigration matters, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

   Since President Trump was elected, the number of churches committed to the sanctuary movement has more than doubled from 400 to more than 800, according to the interfaith organization Church World Service. At least 34 people facing deportation have publicly taken refuge inside churches, The New York Times reported in October.

   In the 1980s, several Central New York congregations, including Syracuse’s Plymouth Church and May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, provided sanctuary to Central Americans fleeing violence at home.