Last week, congregants of the Church of Reconciliation and Mennonite Fellowship in Chapel Hill decided to open their doors to a mother of four from Honduras facing a federal deportation order.
This brings the number of known congregations offering sanctuary to immigrants to three in the Triangle and six in North Carolina —reportedly the most of any state in the country. And there may be more to come: the N.C. Council of Churches has called for 100 congregations across the state to join the growing number of synagogues, mosques, and Christian denominations participating in the sanctuary movement nationwide.
The decision by communities of faith to provide a haven to immigrants and refugees is an act of charity with strong scriptural foundations.
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” God instructs the Israelites in the Book of Leviticus.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in,” Jesus preaches in the Gospel of Matthew.
Yet the sanctuary movement is also a sobering reflection of just how far U.S. immigration policy has strayed from these scriptural imperatives and from core American values. These congregations are serving as the last line of defense preventing members of their communities from being torn away from their families and condemned to uncertain fates in countries that are often only distant memories.
It should never have come to this.
For decades now, Congress has promised, yet failed, to reform our broken immigration laws to meet the needs of our economy and allow millions of otherwise law-abiding undocumented residents to come out of the shadows and become full members of society. During each of these attempts, there was an understanding from presidents of both parties that as a nation of immigrants, our enforcement priorities should be geared toward those who pose a threat to our communities.
As Homeland Security Appropriations chairman during the years of Democratic control of the House, I pushed the Bush Administration on this issue and criticized them sharply when they fell short. This precedent culminated in a series of executive actions during the Obama Administration that further focused immigration enforcement on violent criminals while granting others, such as “Dreamers,” temporary legal status.
But as President Obama always emphasized, temporary executive actions are a poor substitute for a permanent legislative solution.
Now, the election of Donald Trump has turned a festering problem into a desperate crisis. From the very first days of his campaign, Trump has used vile and racist language to describe immigrants. He has attempted to ban Muslims from the country and slowed the flow of refugees to a trickle. He has ended Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans, Haitians, Nepalese, and others facing violence and instability in their home countries. He has persisted with his absurd proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border at taxpayer expense. And, of course, he has heartlessly and recklessly revoked legal status for “Dreamers” and blown up multiple proposed bipartisan solutions.
Increasingly, he has given his immigration agencies a green light to ramp up their arrests and deportations — turning Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into what one conservative commentator called “Trump’s personal bullying squad.”
These actions are tearing apart families and fraying the fabric of communities. They are undermining local law enforcement and the relationships of trust they need to maintain to keep our communities secure. They are giving terrorists a propaganda tool. They are diminishing our global standing and defiling our shared American values. They are, in a word, immoral.
As an elected official, I have worked with dozens of local families, congregations, and advocacy organizations seeking relief from President Trump’s mass deportation agenda, and I have taken senior ICE officials to task directly for their enforcement tactics (including the recent raids in Durham and Orange counties). I have joined countless legislative efforts to grant permanent legal status to Dreamers, reject Trump’s Muslim Ban and border wall, and reform visa programs for immigrants. Yet until we fix our nation’s broken immigration laws comprehensively, too many of our neighbors will continue to live in the shadows, never knowing if the next knock on their door might be the last.
That is why the voice of faith communities as advocates for immigrants and refugees is so powerful — and so essential. I commend the local congregations that have made the difficult decision to offer sanctuary.We all must work toward the day when such a decision is no longer necessary.
David Price (D-N.C.) represents the Fourth Congressional District.