Representatives of 40 churches in Illinois and other states announced Monday their support for the Sanctuary Movement on behalf of undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
"The movement is gaining strength and we're not alone in our call to the conscience of all who believe in God," the Rev. Jose Landaverde of the United American Catholic Church told EFE.
The movement, first active in the 1980s, when churches began offering sanctuary to asylum seekers fleeing civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador, encourages churches to offer room, board and protection to select undocumented immigrants in their communities who are facing final orders of deportation.
During a visit made to him by representatives of churches of different denominations from the greater Chicago area and other Illinois cities and from states like Arizona, the priest recalled that "it is a commandment of the gospels and the Bible" to provide sanctuary to those who need it.
"We must obey God's commandments and appeal to federal authorities to declare a moratorium on deportations," Landaverde said.
The number of churches signing on is growing. As recently as the end of last week, the number of churches offering sanctuary was closer to two dozen.
The churches are taking advantage of a 2011 ICE memorandum, prohibiting ICE agents from arresting, interviewing, searching, or even conducting surveillance on undocumented immigrants at “sensitive locations such as schools and churches.” The only exception to the rule is if the immigrant is involved in a national security or terrorism matter, is a dangerous felon, terrorist suspect or there is an imminent risk of destruction of evidence to an ongoing criminal case.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Chicago's mainly Mexican Little Village neighborhood, he has provided shelter since Aug. 11 for the immigrant Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, a single mother with two U.S.-born chilren ages 3 and 7, who has been caught in the deportation process since 2010.
After living undocumented for 10 years in southern Illinois working in the fields, the woman came to Chicago looking for protection when an attempt failed to get a U visa, created for victims of domestic violence.
"Mass deportations and family separation is wrong and if the government won't take responsibility, we will," the Rev. Julian DeShazier, pastor of University Church Chicago, said.
Critics of the sanctuary movement say that many undocumented immigrants have children here specifically in the hopes of being able to remain here.
"Having U.S.-born children doesn't exempt anyone from compliance with the law," Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told the Wall St. Journal. "These parents have the option to take their children with them if they are deported."
Based on reporting by EFE.