Churches offer refuge for Central Americans facing US deportation

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Leaders of the church-based Sanctuary Movement vowed on Friday to offer their places of worship as refuge for immigrants facing deportation under an Obama administration crackdown on Central American families who entered the United States illegally.

The statement came two days after The Washington Post first reported the US government was planning a series of raids to remove hundreds of undocumented families as early as January in the first such large-scale effort targeting the recent flood of border crossers.

The Department of Homeland Security preparations to intensify deportations of Central American migrants, confirmed by US government sources, drew immediate fire from Democratic presidential candidates and human rights groups.

Leaders of the multi-denominational Sanctuary Movement, which has sheltered at least 10 immigrants from deportation over the past 18 months, joined in the criticism on Friday, alluding to the biblical Nativity story of Mary and Joseph seeking refuge before the birth of Jesus.

“As pastors we know that each and every family is a holy family,” said the Rev Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. “We open our doors to today’s Josephs and Marys. … The gift we have to offer on Christmas Day is the gift of sanctuary.”

The Sanctuary Movement, which Harrington said encompasses about 50 congregations in a dozen US cities, made headlines in January by providing refuge in Philadelphia to a Honduran woman whose two children were born in the United States. She ultimately won a two-year reprieve from deportation.

The Rev Noel Anderson, a coordinator for the affiliated Church World Service, put the overall number of congregations supporting the sanctuary network at about 300 in more than 20 states nationwide.

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