A group of more than 30 clergy members and religious activists in Birmingham, Ala., have signed a letter promising sanctuary to immigrants facing mass deportations in their state, according to a Tuesday report.
The Rev. Paul Ecknes-Tucker of Birmingham’s Pilgrim United Church of Christ told al.com that the move came in response to last week’s raid in Mississippi, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained 680 "removable aliens" at seven food processing plants.
A federal prosecutor described the raid as "the largest single-state immigration enforcement operation in our nation's history."
“The raid over in Mississippi last week was a pivotal moment for us to begin talking about what we would do here if faced with similar things,” Ecknes-Tucker said. “We talked about helping with kids, giving them a safe place to be.”
Declaring churches a sanctuary, Ecknes-Tucker said, will protect immigrants from deportation and allow them time to recuperate.
“Our houses of worship will be sanctuary for those seeking refuge,” read the letter. “We will not allow immigration authorities to enter into our houses of worship without a warrant signed by a judge.”
Ecknes-Tucker acknowledged the likelihood of legal challenges but said he and his congregation “are willing to make that stand.”
The letter, which was issued Tuesday, affirmed that “ethical and theological commitments require us to take a stand against policies and language that dehumanize our immigrant siblings.”
It then admonished “racist, xenophobic, and violent rhetoric from our national leaders” used to “vilify both documented and undocumented immigrants.”
Though the signatories “love and support” police and law enforcement who want to better their community, they decried the supposed weaponization of law enforcement policies “as part of an agenda to promote ethnic nationalism.”
The letter ends with a comparison of “saints and holy ancestors” who have fought on behalf of marginalized groups.