West Virginia Church Shirks Law, Becomes Sanctuary For Illegal Immigrants

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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A West Virginia church pledged to open its doors as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants in danger of deportation, becoming the latest in a series of self proclaimed “sanctuary churches.”

First Congregational United Church of Christ, the oldest church in Huntington, W.Va., announced the pledge in a statement Wednesday, although the congregation wrote and signed the document several weeks ago as a reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order empowering law enforcement to crack down on illegal immigration, The Herald-Dispatch reports.

“We are ready to open the doors of our sacred space and accompany those facing deportation and discrimination,” the pledge says. “While our place of worship is not equipped to house those in danger of deportation long-term, we will open our doors as a safe space in immediate danger and be a place of calm and support as we find resources to assist those in need.”

The church, whose website logo reads “Boldly Christian, Proudly Progressive,” cites a “new phase of U.S. history wherein the politics of fear has stoked an atmosphere of racism and xenophobia across the country” as motivation for their move to help illegal immigrants evade law enforcement.

Churches across the nation have joined the Sanctuary Movement, many signing a pledge authored by Rev. Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. Harrington’s pledge shares some language verbatim with First Congregational’s pledge, and has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures.

Some communities in the Sanctuary Movement promise to protect illegal immigrants from immigration law enforcement, although First Congregational merely offers short-term protection.

First Congregational’s members write that they are “saddened” by the deportation of illegal immigrants who have lived for years in their community. Some of these community members are part of the 300 illegal immigrants that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have arrested in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland since February.

According to the pledge, First Congregational’s mission of sanctuary is not relegated to their church property. “We support those answering the call to provide sanctuary at schools, hospitals, college campuses, community centers and family homes,” the pledge reads. “We will work with partner organizations to create sacred spaces of sanctuary wherever needed.”

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Joshua Gill