At the beginning of this year President Trump signed three executive orders stating that that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians and others from what are called “terror-prone nations” from entering, at least temporarily.
Everyone has been talking about it, both inside the US and at the wider global sphere. Fear overshadows the whole community atmosphere. There are reports that families are keeping children out of school and workers are staying off the job out of fear that enforcement teams could swoop in at any minute. Pope Francis expressed that these measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly un-Christian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. He said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
Houses of worship have historically provided refuge to those facing deportation. The climate created by the Trump administration’s rhetoric is forcing churches to do more. They are now providing sanctuary of all kinds to hundreds of people: spiritual, moral, legal, financial, and physical support as the need arises. Different churches have been working together to organize rapid response teams, connected by email and phone chains, or even encrypted messaging. Their goal: to respond to raids, offer assistance and even organize protests.
The Catholic parishes around the country, play a vital role in the global refugee crisis by welcoming newcomers. The number of churches that are actively offering sanctuary — and where immigrants are taking them up on it — is unclear. But since Trump was elected in November last year, the number of churches in the United States expressing willingness to offer sanctuary has increased in numbers. Offering sanctuary at a church can involve providing food and shelter for an immigrant, as well as staffing volunteers to stay with that person around the clock. It offered a concrete way for people to respond and show support and solidarity with undocumented people. Undocumented immigrants fearing imminent deportation feel somewhat safer there.
One of the many church-run facilities in the US such as the St. Ignatius parish run by the Order of Servants of Mary of the Mexican Province serve as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Fr. Tobias Macias, OSM has been the parish priest for four years now. He has assisted undocumented immigrants who would arrive by bus travelling for months without food, water and use of hygienic facilities. He said that when these displaced persons arrive they are ushered to a reception room finding a welcoming and homely atmosphere. The rooms of second floor of the former school have been converted to bedrooms, reception hall or a storage room for personal items such as hygienic products, clothes, shoes, etc. The center serves as a half-way facility while the persons await for preparation of necessary documents and money to be sent by their relatives for transport fare in view of family reunification. Fr. Tobias said the “Stewardship and co-responsibility is doing what you have to do by serving those who are most in need. When the love of God touches your heart, you are able help those who are most in need.”