Churches to Offer Haven for Immigrants

May 10, 2007

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Nina Grey, Senior Minister of First Unitarian Society of Chicago

Two churches on Chicago's West Side announced on Wednesday they're joining a budding national movement to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

Proponents call it the New Sanctuary Movement. Other cities in the forefront include New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego.

From our Humboldt Park bureau, Chicago Public Radio's Chip Mitchell reports.

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One of the congregations is Capilla del Barrio, part of the Reformed Church in America. The other is Adalberto United Methodist Church, where an undocumented Mexican mother named Elvira Arellano has lived since last August in defiance of a deportation order.

The churches are calling for federal reforms to help an estimated 12 million immigrants who lack proper papers to be in the country. They want paths to citizenship, worker protections, and unification of families separated by deportation.

GRAY: “Racism has blinded many Americans to what takes place in our own kitchens, workshops and fields.”

Nina Grey is senior minister of First Unitarian Society in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. On Wednesday, she announced that her national denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, is endorsing the sanctuary movement.

GRAY: “For our nation to be whole, we must acknowledge that the lives of privilege of so many of us are supported in thousands of ways by people whose labor is invisible.”

Chicago is among five U.S. cities where religious groups are launching what they're calling the New Sanctuary Movement. They say they're continuing a tradition in which churches and synagogues in the 1980s harbored Central American civil-war refugees.

Today's movement may extend to evangelical churches and other groups often thought of as more conservative. Professor Lindy Scott directs Wheaton College's Center for Applied Christian Ethics.

SCOTT: “They're already ministering, preaching, teaching undocumented workers. As they get to know the immigrants, they become part of the church family.”

Immigrants are also playing a greater role in the Catholic Church.

SEGURA: “The first place where people come is always the church.”

That's Evanston resident Elena Segura. She directs the national Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform. The goals of that campaign resemble those of the sanctuary movement.

SEGURA: “The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, which is the highest body in the country of the Catholic Church, is committed to work for justice for immigrants.”

But Segura says a 1980s Catholic Church policy against providing physical refuge in a parish still stands.

In Humboldt Park, I'm Chip Mitchell, Chicago Public Radio.