Colorado Springs churches form coalition to safeguard immigrants facing deportation

Karina, 10, smiles after speaking at a press conference about living in fear of her family members being deported Monday, June 19, 2017, at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. The church announced they will offer sanctuary when needed. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette

The cause is more urgent than ever, a coalition of four Colorado Springs churches said in announcing Monday it would offer sanctuary to immigrants who have received final deportation orders.

The alliance, known as the Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition, includes All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, First Congregational Church, First United Methodist Church and the Colorado Springs Friends Meeting, as well as immigrant and community leaders.

The All Souls Unitarian Church will serve as the coalition’s host sanctuary church – the facility where immigrants facing deportation would be able to live while protected from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We are troubled that the need for such a coalition even exists,” said Candace Datz, the primary organizer of the coalition and a member of First Congregational Church. “Yet we find great purpose and hope in seeing our community stand up for the dignity of families and individuals in our city who are being unjustly targeted by racist and exclusive immigration laws and policies.”

“There is more urgency now more than ever to declare sanctuary status,” said the Rev. Dr. Nori Rost of All Souls. All Souls has the capacity to host one family at a time, a figure the coalition deemed adequate based on the demand faced by coalitions across the country. In addition to hosting immigrants who are facing deportation and their families, the coalition will help pay for basic needs and legal fees. Coalition members have not discussed their plans with city leaders, but plan to soon.

Datz and the other members of the coalition are joining a national cause known as the Sanctuary Movement. The movement is growing in response to the expansion by President Donald Trump’s administration of criteria for deporting immigrants living in the country illegally; there has been a 150 percent increase in noncriminal arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement so far this year compared to the same period in 2016.

Over 800 faith communities have agreed to participate in the cause, whether as hosts or as allies. In the winter of 2013, a collection of congregations in Denver formed the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition.

“What we are doing is stepping up to support a voice in the community that is often not heard correctly or at all,” said Jennifer Piper, the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition representative and organizing director of the American Friends Service Committee. “I hope that with the Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition, there will be an opportunity for folks across the community to hear the voices of immigrants living in the Springs.”

The Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition has acted as a consultant to the Colorado Springs Coalition, sharing with them its policies, procedures, experiences and mistakes. The Denver coalition has served as a host for four people and accompanied dozens to court dates, immigration check-ins and lawyer appointments.

The Sanctuary Movement is apart from cities that have declared themselves sanctuary cities. Sanctuary city status discourages local law enforcement from adopting federal policies dealing with deportation. Denver, Fort Collins, Aurora and five other Colorado cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities. Colorado Springs has not.

“Faith communities have a unique opportunity to support immigrants facing deportation,” Datz said. “Because of this policy and because of our moral obligation to protect family values and to keep families together, we declare today that we will use our privileges and resources to do all that we can to support immigrant families.”

Immigration Services has an informal policy to not take action in sensitive locations. Under that directive, sensitive locations include schools, hospitals and churches.

Additionally, because the church is private property, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would need a search or arrest warrant signed by a judge to enter the building without consent, according to immigration lawyer Alex McShiras of Joseph Law Firm.

“Unless there is a complete change in policy, I don’t see Immigration Services reversing that policy or most judges signing that type of warrant,” McShiras said. “The possible uproar would be immense.”

Faith communities from Pueblo, Monument and Palmer Lake – cities that also do not identify as sanctuary cities – have reached out to the coalition to join. Once the coalition has solidified its policies and procedures, it would like to connect with those communities, according to Datz.

Two of All Soul’s sister churches in Denver and northern Nevada are also host sanctuary churches.

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