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Texas Congregation Gives Sanctuary to Guatemalan Refugee

U.S. immigration officials say they are taking a hands-off policy toward churches that provide sanctuary to refugees who could be deported. (Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. immigration officials say they are taking a hands-off policy toward churches that provide sanctuary to refugees who could be deported. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 10, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas - A church in Texas has given a Guatemalan refugee sanctuary and is hoping that more religious organizations will follow suit. Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas has taken in a woman who church officials will only call Hilda. She says she came to the U.S. to escape violence in her home country and is concerned that she may be deported.

Reverend Jim Rigby, a minister at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church, says he hopes the church's actions will counter what he sees as hypocrisy in American policy toward refugees.

"It's very disturbing when the subject of immigration comes up and we don't tell the part about powerful nations destroying helpless people," says Rigby. "When somebody comes to our border whose nation we destabilized, we can't act like we're innocent; we have to start taking responsibility."

Rigby says most of Central America, including Guatemala, is beset with drug-gang violence, and thousands of people, including families, have come north in recent years to escape. He says deporting Hilda would be a death sentence for her.

Rigby adds he believes Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, also called ICE, will not arrest Hilda and others on church property.

"At this point, what we are hoping to do is get a network around the city of churches that can just adopt individual families, and synagogues and secular groups that want to do this," Rigby says. " The premise that is being worked on is that ICE doesn't want to come on church territory."

Contacted about the situation, ICE officials said while it is illegal to provide sanctuary from federal officials, there is an agency policy that advises agents to generally avoid enforcement actions at schools and churches.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - TX