Recently, I became part of the Sanctuary Coalition in Colorado Springs, representing the Quakers. I’ve come to believe that I must take a stand on what is happening to undocumented immigrants in our country at the hands of our government. Instructed by the command of Jesus to expand our idea of who our neighbor is (Luke 10), I am reminded how both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament call for a society to be just and merciful, and to care for the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, and the fatherless.
Recently I watched the film, The Zookeeper's Wife and was reminded that over the years there have been many films and books about people who took a stand in support of others who were experiencing persecution. The issue here is about any group of people who are persecuted by other groups of people; it's about governments and individuals who define some people as “the other” and decide who are the insiders and who are defined as “those outsider people.” My Christian faith teaches me to have more concern and compassion, so I found myself wondering: Do I accept the barriers set up between people? Do I deny what is happening to other people? Does my faith compel me to stand up for any group of people who are bullied, taunted, or persecuted?
Colorado Springs is new to the sanctuary movement in religious communities. Pueblo and Denver are farther along than we are, but persons in both cities are working with us to answer questions and help us move through the various issues involving “sanctuary churches.” The Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition was initially launched in 2017 by All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, First Congregational United Church of Christ Church, First United Methodist Church, and the Colorado Springs Friends Meeting.
In my research, I’ve learned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recognizes churches, hospitals, and schools as sanctuaries, which means they have never invaded those spaces to deport anyone. Of course, schools are only sanctuaries during the day, and hospitals only for brief hospital stays. So, sanctuary churches are important because they can take in those in danger for days, weeks, months, or longer. Most who take sanctuary are at a church for just a few months.
Sanctuary churches work with immigration groups, such as Grupo Esperanza, to vet and choose the individuals or families for sanctuary. Usually they are people who are in some phase of adjudication with ICE. Often the children are citizens, and may have lived here all their lives - for 10 or 20 or 30 years. The children might be citizens, but the parents are not, and the parents are in danger of being torn apart from their families, while ICE decides whether they'll be deported. Many of these people check in with ICE yearly, and abide by all laws regarding their undocumented status.
I find it deplorable that families are being torn apart, and many of the children live in fear that they will come home from school and their parents will have been taken away, a fear that is well- founded. Many parents are now making plans for who will take their children if they are forced to return to their countries – which will often put their lives in danger.
Undocumented person who are arrested for criminal activity go through a legal process and are then deported, a policy the government has had for years (but note, immigrants commit fewer crimes than the general population).
But now, millions could be deported who are law-abiding, pay taxes and social security, and have been here for years, contributing to our economy. Against this threat of deportation, sanctuary churches provide living spaces for families. The children who are usually citizens are allowed to go to school and play outside, but any who are undocumented have to stay within the walls of the church.
In my view, a line has been crossed that is bringing out hatred of “the other” in our country, whether the other is the Mexican, Muslim, refugee, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, lesbian, gay, transgender, women, Black people, Hispanics. In my view, there is no “other,” there is only us.
Perhaps I'm especially sensitive because one of my childhood friends, Tamara, was a refugee from Latvia. Her family had been in a camp for a year or two and then were sponsored by the Methodist Church in our little town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. My sister and I were the first American children she met - when I was 7. She took piano lessons from my mother, entered music competitions with all of us, and her father and brothers got jobs in the paper mill. I often think of what it must have been like for Tamara to come as a little child to a strange land from a war-torn county. I wonder what she must have felt when she experienced the care and safety of the church and the town.
Those who are undocumented are threatened at any time - expecting the knock at the door, which could tear them apart from their families, and diminish their hopes of a safe and stable and good life. It reminds me too much of what has happened too often around the world. These are not family values or Christian values. I feel my faith encourages me, I believe even commands me, to stand with these other spiritual communities in advocacy for the stranger—the neighbor—among us.
Dr. Linda Seger is a screenwriting instructor, screenplay consultant, and the author of several books on the subject of screenwriting, including Making a Good Script Great: A Guide for Writing &
Rewriting, Creating Unforgettable Characters: Practical Guide to Character Development in Films, TV Series, Advertisements, Novels and Short Stories and The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film. She is also the author of Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Millions of Christians are Democrats. She and her husband Peter LeVar live in Cascade.