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NC Churches Step Up to Provide Sanctuary to Immigrants

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Deportees from the United States crowd into a small room to receive information from an immigration official in El Salvador. (Fronteras Desk/flickr)
Deportees from the United States crowd into a small room to receive information from an immigration official in El Salvador. (Fronteras Desk/flickr)
 By Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC, Contact
June 12, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. -- At least two churches in North Carolina have publicly declared that they will offer sanctuary to immigrants at risk of deportation from recent directives by the Trump administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And others in the state are preparing to offer a safe haven as well.

Jennie Belle, program director for farm worker and immigrant rights at the North Carolina Council of Churches, said that while discussion about places of worship offering sanctuary began after the November election, ideas are being put into practice now.

"And it's been like a lot of talking and what we feel like is best for our congregation, and now is the time that we're really starting to actually see Trump's policies being put into practice and see people that are being deported,” Belle said.

While President Trump has threatened to cut funding to cities that offer sanctuary to immigrants, there has been no action against religious institutions yet.

Belle said that in many cases, the immigrants at risk of deportation have lived in the U.S. for many years, paying taxes and raising their families. Some of them fear for their safety if they return to their home countries. She said the stories she hears from immigrants faced with deportation are alarming.

"Congregations stepping up and providing sanctuary is literally saving people's lives,” she said. "I mean, I am literally getting calls on a daily basis. People are getting deported every single day. So it is families being torn apart, people going back to situations of violence and possibly losing their lives."

There is no official legislation preventing law enforcement from entering a church to arrest someone, but there is an ICE memo advising officials to avoid detaining immigrants in sensitive areas such as schools, hospitals and churches. The agency also has a policy of "prosecutorial discretion" that allows them to not prosecute cases where deportation would break up a family or community.

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