Learn about Providing Sanctuary for Immigrants Facing Deportation

February 15, 2017Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

The concept of “sanctuary” congregations has many definitions and applications. In the 1980s, Reform Movement congregations provided sanctuary primarily to central Americans at risk of deportation. As the Union for Reform Judaism stated in a 1985 resolution:

We are instructed in the Holiness Code (Lev. 19:33) to take to heart the lessons of our own history by treating aliens in our midst with justice and compassion. "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Judaism affirms the supreme value of human life and the equal dignity of every human being. The prophets of Israel bade us to pursue justice, seek peace, and build a society of loving-kindness among all of God's creatures…

Thousands of men, women, and children are fleeing oppressing, torture, and murder and are seeking a haven in the United States and Canada… In response to this situation, hundreds of churches and synagogues have offered "sanctuary" to Central Americans fleeing violence and oppression. The concept of "sanctuary" embodies various actions, including legal assistance, material support, financial support, public advocacy and education, and/or temporary physical shelter. 

Though many of the underlying issues then and now remain the same, today we are facing different challenges, and the applicable laws in each state also differ. Congregations that seek to declare themselves places of sanctuary should do so in consultation with their counsel and in awareness of local and state laws concerning immigration and the role of law enforcement. It is also best to coordinate with local immigrant advocacy and resettlement groups like HIAS, LIRS and others.

  • A recent New York Times article outlined the role some houses of worship are playing as sanctuaries.
  • A Guardian article outlines how religious groups are protecting undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
  • A recent webinar, featuring Rabbi Jonathan Klein of United For Economic Justice (CLUE) in LA, discussed the importance of providing sanctuary in our communities.
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) outlines your rights as they pertain to interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Several national organizations have resources on providing sanctuary:

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