Because of concern for the impending threat of ramped-up incarceration and deportation of immigrants—particularly those from Latin America and those who are Muslim—a number of local faith communities have started the Cincinnati Sanctuary Congregation Coalition.
On February 13, 2017, the Heritage UU Church Board of trustees voted for the church to become a member of the Coalition as a “Solidarity Congregation,” a congregation in a supporting role.
This Coalition is something new and evolving. Through attendance at two organizational meetings, we at Heritage now know more about how it will operate.
Within the Cincinnati Sanctuary Congregation Coalition, a team of people will be trained and ready to respond if there is an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raid, as happened some years ago at Koch Foods in Butler County. The team will fulfill various functions, including videoing what happens, but will not in any way interfere with or impede the actions of the ICE officers.
Within the Coalition, another team will be interviewing persons or families seeking sanctuary. The team will be looking for those who meet certain criteria.
Sanctuary will be offered only to individuals who have an appeal pending as to their immigration status, but who nevertheless are at risk for immediate deportation. (It sounds strange that you can be shipped out of the country even before your appeal is resolved, but it’s true.) Thus, sanctuary will be offered only to people who may indeed be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally, but for whom the final status is not yet known.
The final decision on whether to offer sanctuary in any particular case will be made by the congregation that would be providing the shelter to the immigrant.
Once an immigrant has received sanctuary and moved into a faith community’s building or worship compound, the media will be notified and an announcement will be made to this effect. There will be interviews on camera, probably with the person in sanctuary and with others in the movement. Thus, this is not an attempt to “hide” someone from law enforcement. Supporting congregations are also being public about their support.
By tradition, ICE officers will not enter a place of worship to arrest someone, but this is not law.
Heritage Church will not be providing living quarters to immigrants, but will be in a helping role, providing support to congregations that do provide physical sanctuary. Heritage’s role is what is known as a “Solidarity Congregation.”
Congregations that will actually house immigrants are known as “Sanctuary Congregations.” Right now the Coalition has only one Sanctuary Congregation; it is Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal), which has a living quarters as part of its church campus. Several other churches are seeking funds in order to remodel so as to provide suitable living quarters and become Sanctuary Congregations.
The Coalition has approximately 15 member congregations at this time. The member congregations are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian Universalist.
One additional point for all of us at Heritage: At the city-wide Coalition meetings, it has been emphasized that this effort “is a marathon, not a sprint.” It could be a long time before a church takes in a person in sanctuary, and once that happens, it could be weeks—months—years—during which that person (and possibly their family) lives there and needs our support.
For more information, talk with anyone who has attended a Coalition meeting: Bob and Jackie Drake, Doug Beezley, Rae Jane and Russ Araujo. Bob has taken an active role in beginning to get Heritage plugged into other ways to support the immigrant community, and can be reached at: