Over 130 churches, synagogues, and other faith organizations in Western North Carolina are banding together to aid immigrants in the region. Congregations at several of the churches and synagogues involved have already declared they will offer sanctuary for those in fear of being deported. The rest are considering it. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville is one of those considering, or in ‘discernment.’ Reverend Lisa Bovee-Kemper says the statement of solidarity all 133 faith groups have signed is in response to threatening rhetoric and actions against not just immigrants, but all marginalized communities. The ‘sanctuary’ movement in the U.S. took off in the 1980’s she says when civil wars in Central America spurred refugees to come the U.S. While the values are still the same, Bovee-Kemper says those affected now are different. “The main difference is that the people who are threatened today are not people who are coming in from outside of our community. They’re our neighbors. They are people who have been here for years or decades and are now under threat.”
Part of the statement the faith groups signed includes a call for local law enforcement and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ‘respect their religious liberty’ to offer sanctuary. It is illegal for cities in North Carolina to call themselves ‘sanctuary cities.’ Such places in other states allow local law enforcement to ignore federal immigration attempts to deport undocumented aliens.
Statement in full -
As members of faith communities and immigrant communities in Western North Carolina, we find ourselves in turbulent times. New policies on immigration enforcement threaten to round up immigrants, split apart families, and deport our neighbors, who have lived and worked as contributing members of our communities for decades.
Recent executive orders on immigration and the Department of Homeland Security memos that implement them dangerously escalate existing anti-immigrant policies. They target all undocumented community members by terminating prosecutorial discretion. They penalize asylum seekers and family members who help children seek safety. They force local police to serve as immigration agents.
By executive order, detainees and deportees now include parents of young children, long-time, well-established residents who hold jobs and pay taxes, devoted moms and dads, and even patients seeking treatment for serious illnesses.
These extraordinary actions divide children from their parents, and siblings and spouses from one another. Aggressive raids by ICE agents (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are instilling acute fear and anxiety throughout the immigrant community. They threaten to impede not only the American spirit of neighborliness and good will but also the industry and commerce of our nation.
As Americans, we are dismayed. As people of faith we are also committed to taking action. As Protestants, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims, Bahá’í, Pagans, and others, we share at least two spiritual imperatives: to love our neighbors, and to welcome those who come from far off lands seeking shelter.
In the Hebrew Scriptures it is written “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) Jesus cites this text and proclaims love of neighbor as one the two greatest commandments. (Mark 12:31) The Prophet Muhammad cautioned, “None of you will believe until you love for all others what you love for yourself.” (Hadith) In the same vein, Buddha taught "As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cherish all with a boundless heart." (Khuddaka Nikaya)
As people of faith, we must therefore stand in solidarity with the approximately eleven million people who are living in this country peaceably and productively and whose status is now threatened by these unprecedented actions.
We pledge to do everything in our power, as individuals and as faith communities, to protect the immigrants among us from hostile action by our government. Working alongside our immigrant neighbors, we will create sanctuary spaces and raise money for legal assistance. We will urge and pursue federal, state and local actions (see addendum) that will open the way for immigrants to achieve their full potentials as sojourners in this land.
God protect our neighbors, and God grant us one and all the courage to stand with them.
Addendum to Statement of Support: Action Items to ConsiderFederal, State, and Local Governments Actions we will urge and pursue:
Our Senators and Representatives in Congress to recognize that these dramatically expanded efforts to deport peaceful residents are not supported by the majority of Americans and to not fund the expansion of immigration enforcement in our communities or at our borders.
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to treat potential deportees with dignity and respect, and not as criminals, and provide them with access to legal counsel and the benefits of due process to which they are entitled as residents in this county.
WNC municipal and county law enforcement agencies to focus on keeping our communities safe, not on assisting ICE efforts to deport peaceable residents.
The North Carolina General Assembly to repeal the state law making sanctuary cities illegal.
The U.S. Congress to enact bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.
Local law enforcement agencies and ICE to respect of our religious liberty to offer sanctuary.