At this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion, to truth and the core values of American society. In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil. As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.
— Declaration of Conscience, joint statement of the UUA and the UUASC, January 2017
The Fellowship Governing Board recently voted to “authorize the creation of a Shared Sanctuary Ministry with the express hope that the Fellowship will become a sanctuary congregation,” a leadership commitment that acknowledges and extends the recent groundswell of support for this work from members, friends and the greater community.
A congregation that declares itself a Sanctuary congregation is one willing to engage on a spectrum of solidarity actions including welcoming undocumented people, advocating to help stop deportations, assisting with legal clinics, and physically sheltering an immigrant in danger of immediate deportation.
Proposed resolution to be voted on at the June 4th Annual Meeting
Be it resolved that the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship declares itself a Sanctuary Congregation, committing ourselves to the practice of radical hospitality, offered to those who are targets of the unjust immigration laws of our government. We commit to providing safe and welcoming living accommodations and helping to provide essentials, such as food and legal assistance, as we are able, in our building, as a place of refuge to any person or family in need, as our ministers and governing board so declare. Additionally, this declaration of sanctuary lies both within and beyond our walls, through collaboration with other community organizations, working toward a more equitable, safe and just community for the immigrants and refugees who live here.
The Many Forms of Sanctuary
Some of the many forms of action we and other congregations have taken or are planning include:
- Accompany community members, congregants and neighbors facing deportation on a case-by-case basis
- Advocate to stop unjust deportation policies
- Amplify the moral imperative to stop deportations by lifting up the stories of sanctuary cases
- Defend administrative policies such as prosecutorial discretion to win stays of deportation and to keep sacred spaces and schools protected under the Sensitive Locations guidelines
- Work alongside undocumented students to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA)
- Support local work to defend Sanctuary cities and push back against unjust policies that enlist local police to do immigration enforcement
- Education beyond the congregation (such as public forums)
- Education within the congregation
- Include immigration justice as a theme in worship and religious education
- Fundraising for justice organizations or causes
- Direct service (such as tutoring at a school, transporting migrants to their legal aid appointments, being a language practice buddy)
- Active involvement with the UUA, UUSC, UURISE, UUCSJ, or a State Action Network5
Advocacy (petitions, showing up at the legislature, meeting with the mayor)
- Active involvement in local interracial, immigrant rights, and/or interfaith coalitions
- Building or deepening a relationship with a community organizing or advocacy group that represents and is led by members of a marginalized group in your area
- Public witness (vigils, marches, hanging Black Lives Matter banners)
- Protest and demonstrations, showing up with the church banner
- Direct civil disobedience (such as publically serving as a sanctuary church)
- Nonviolent disruption (such as participating in rapid response networks to witness to or block an immigration enforcement raid)
- June 2011 memorandum from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton:
- 2014 Executive Actions on Immigration resource page: http://www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction
- Immigration as a Moral Issue – Statement of Conscience: http://bit.ly/2pnbqjy
- Sign the Declaration of Conscience: http://www.uua.org/declaration
Rev. Leah Hart-Landsberg
Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Sanctuary Movement FAQs
Message from Rev. Leah Hart-Landsberg and Shared Sanctuary Ministry Committee Chair Katie Reiser:
Thank you for taking the time to read the Frequently Asked Questions about our path towards sanctuary declaration. Ultimately, some risks surrounding sanctuary activities are unknown, due to the fact that the political landscape is rapidly shifting and the current administration is extremely unpredictable.
But we do know that there is no history of legal action against any congregation or other institution who have offered sanctuary. We know we have the support of the Governing Board, incoming senior minister Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy, and a growing number of local partners. We also know that our Fellowship mission calls us to welcome everyone, grow in mind and spirit and lead in social justice. Offering a place of sanctuary for those facing unjust deportation will help each of us–and all of us collectively–live out this great mission.
Can we offer complete certainty about whether someone will seek sanctuary here or what else might transpire after that fact? No! But we have in place a transparent yet nimble process that we believe equips us to move forward. Our shared sanctuary ministry committee has been hard at work to lay the groundwork for logistical, procedural, financial, legal and relational success in this endeavour. We hope you’ll read on to learn more; voice questions, concerns and support; vote yes on June 4th to declare the Fellowship a place of sanctuary; and join us in this work.
Question: What will the physical space look like? What will be provided to comfortably house an individual?
Answer: The janitor closet across from the family restroom down the Sanctuary Wing is currently undergoing a minor renovation to install a standing shower insert. The David Room in the Religious Education wing will be designated as the private sanctuary living space, allowing easy access to the adjoining toilet and sink. The SSM committee is currently working on creating a registry through Target to allow for members and friends of the Fellowship, as well as members of the larger community, to purchase items for the living space, including bedding, towels, toiletries, small furniture items, etc.
Question: Until we pay our staff properly and do fair share for the UUA, how can we use our resources for something like this?
Answer: The UUA expressly states its support of and involvement in the Sanctuary Movement. The UUA calls on congregations to enter into a discernment process, as we are doing, in preparation to either declare themselves Sanctuary Congregations or offer support in any way they can to congregations that have declared sanctuary. The UUA asserts that, as Unitarian Universalists, we cannot stand idly by while vulnerable individuals are being targeted, when we have the privilege and power to offer help. As for the financial costs of Sanctuary, it is the hope and plan that the expenses involved in providing sanctuary (legal fees, living accommodations, groceries, meals, transportation for family members, etc.) will be funded through donations from members and friends of the Fellowship, as well as support from an interfaith coalition, and through fundraising efforts in the greater community. There is no plan to restructure the budget to take money away from Fellowship staff or programming, especially considering that staff engagement in the sanctuary process is essential for success. Our task is always to balance vision with capacity. The board, staff and a core team of lay leaders think we can pull this off if we’re careful. But we need widespread buy in. Join us, please!
Question: If we declare ourselves a sanctuary congregation will we be facing increased attention (i.e. press, advertising sanctuary)?
Answer: Yes. The Governing Board would deputize our ministers to say things to the media on behalf of the Fellowship. We will publicly declare ourselves a Sanctuary congregation if the vote is affirmative on June 4th. However, if and when an individual asks for sanctuary at Fellowship, that announcement is at the discretion of that person. The experience of sanctuary is ultimately the experience of the individual living in sanctuary. Our efforts, as an active Sanctuary congregation, must be completely focused on allowing the individual living in sanctuary to shape the narrative.
Sometimes sanctuary is offered quietly, without significant public appeal, and that can sometimes be enough to get a stay of deportation granted. However, sometimes sanctuary is most effective when mass public appeal is pursued, including press conferences, press releases, rallies and protests, with the individual engaging publically in the process of pursuing the stay of deportation. The individual living in sanctuary makes the decision of how public the pursuit of resolution is. The experience of sanctuary is ultimately the experience of the individual and their family, and our efforts must be completely focused on supporting them as they shape the narrative.
Question: What are some ways in which members and friends of the Fellowship and community/interfaith individuals will be able to support and participate in the action of providing sanctuary?
Answer: Some ways to be involved include helping with basic day to day necessities (i.e. laundry rotation, grocery delivery), community building and engagement (i.e. family game nights), overnight accompaniment, transportation for family members, vigils, letters/phone calls/protest to ICE and department of Homeland Security, rapid response to Fellowship during crisis, and fund raising (for legal fees, living expenses, family support). We all have different levels of comfort with participation in this effort. That is a strength of our congregation.
Question: If no one in the Fox Valley is in need of sanctuary what are other ways that we may ratify this in practice?
Answer: Our plan is to connect with immigrant-led community organizations to find out what they need (possible ways to support our immigrant neighbors include ride shares, childcare during immigrant advocacy events, hosting fundraisers, etc.). We can also pursue offering support to other Sanctuary Congregations.
Question: If the individual in need of sanctuary has a family would we house the individual or the whole family?
Answer: It is difficult to imagine that the Fellowship has the capacity to house a family. Living away from home can be disruptive to children and the goal of sanctuary is to keep the family together and help maintain normalcy. Family members are welcome to come and go freely, only the person facing deportation is in danger if they leave the premises. Sanctuary would expand the family’s living space to allow the family to be together as much as possible while helping keep the individual safe from deportation.
Question: What if ICE Agents come to the Fellowship?
Answer: It is unlikely that ICE agents would come to the Fellowship for a couple reasons. This is directly from Immigration and Custom Enforcement from their policy for sensitive locations to lay a little ground work.
The policies provide that enforcement actions at or focused on sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, and hospitals should generally be avoided, and that such actions may only take place when (a) prior approval is obtained from an appropriate supervisory official, or (b) there are exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action without supervisor approval. The policies are meant to ensure that ICE and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers and agents exercise sound judgment when enforcing federal law at or focused on sensitive locations, to enhance the public understanding and trust, and to ensure that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so, without fear or hesitation.
The message we take from this policy is that ICE recognizes that physically removing an individual from a church, school or hospital for the purpose of detainment and deportation would be a PR nightmare for them. It is important to note, however, that ICE has pursued questioning students in schools across the country and has removed individuals seeking treatment from hospitals for the purpose of deportation. Candidates for sanctuary are those individuals with minor infractions such as driving without a license or using a fake social security card, and because of this infraction they were flagged and now have an order for deportation with a date they are expected to turn themselves over to ICE. An order for deportation is not an arrest warrant. If an undocumented individual has a warrant for their arrest, they are arrested and detained and are not given any warning and would therefore not be a candidate for sanctuary as they would not have time to seek it. It is also likely an immigration attorney may connect a congregation with a client in need of sanctuary. Attorneys have detailed understanding of their client’s legal situation and would be able to explain the situation in detail to those designated to make the formal offer of sanctuary, our Ministers and our Governing Board. The offer of sanctuary would be extended to an individual at the discretion of our Ministers and Governing Board. The answer to the original question “What if ICE agents come to the Fellowship?” is that it would be extremely unlikely for that to happen because ICE and CBP officers stay away from churches per policy that they wrote themselves. But what if they change their policy on sensitive locations and no longer honor it? The committee will be working on assembling a rapid response team comprised of Fellowship members and friends and community members, including part of the group who would be willing to risk arrest for obstruction by physically putting themselves in between the ICE agents and the individual in sanctuary. We are pursuing specialized training for the members of our congregation willing to commit to responding to an emergent situation. And if ICE shows up, we will be calling every news outlet and video taping everything.
Question: How will this disrupt day to day operations at the Fellowship?
Answer: We hope not much! To this and all other logistical matters, we can only say that we have a plan in place for how to discern what will work. Our goal is to have transparency so folks know what’s happening and who gets to authorize it but enough authority pre-delegated to be efficient.
Question: Why us? Can’t someone else do this work/take on this project?
Answer: The Winnebago Worship Group of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) of the Fox Valley is currently the only faith group in the Fox Valley that has publically declared themselves a Sanctuary Group. They meet monthly in homes and have designated and registered one of the homes they meet in as their primary place of worship and the space where they would offer sanctuary. They commit to actively supporting any congregations that declare themselves a place of sanctuary. Clearly, the Fellowship has a level of visibility and security that a private home designated as primary worship space would not have. Members of the Quaker Group commit to actively supporting and partnering with the Fellowship should we declare ourselves a sanctuary congregation. Other congregations are vocal in their support of this effort, however no other congregation in the Fox Valley with a building has taken this action to declare themselves a Sanctuary Congregation.
Question: Will we be putting our tax exempt status in jeopardy?
Answer: An immigration attorney acting as an advisor to the Shared Sanctuary Ministry Committee confirmed what Rev. Leah did her best to research; there are no credible attempts of this ever happening or nearly happening.
Question: What kind of legal vulnerabilities are involved in providing sanctuary?
Answer: This is uncertain. Per the immigration attorney acting as an advisor to the Shared Sanctuary Committee, the law surround this is up for interpretation. If you obstruct an ICE agent from them doing their job there may be legal ramifications. But it is worth it to note that over 700 congregations of diverse denominations currently designate themselves as Sanctuary Congregations and there are no reported instances of legal action taken against churches actively offering sanctuary. There is an important distinction to be made between providing sanctuary and harboring. Harboring is the illegal concealment of an individual. Harboring is a felony. The declaration of sanctuary is made publically, there is nothing secret about it.
Local immigration attorney Molly Smiltneek has agreed to act as an advisor for the Fellowship as we move through this process and we are connected with a legal firm in Chicago willing and able to provide discounted services to an individual in sanctuary at the Fellowship.
Question: What do we need to pass this resolution?
Answer: Please discuss this issue with other members of the Fellowship and invite people to participate. Help us expand the conversation. Attend the Annual Meeting and encourage others who support this work to attend as well and vote YES!