Why Offer Sanctuary?

“You who are fearful, who live with shadows / hovering over your shoulders, / come in. / This place is sanctuary, and it is for you.”

–the Rev. Kathleen McTigue

At Unitarian Universalist Society: East’s (UUS:E) 2018 annual meeting on May 20th, the Policy Board is asking members to vote on whether or not to offer physical sanctuary to immigrant(s) seeking to pursue their legal options in response to a deportation order. In order to support members in their decision-making process, we are using this page to provide basic information and links to resources that will help increase understanding of why offering sanctuary is important and how we can make it a reality at UUS:E.

What Sanctuary IS
We would offer physical sanctuary (a temporary home)  to immigrant(s) who have received a deportation order but need more time to pursue their legal options.
What Sanctuary IS NOT
Sanctuary is not meant to be a permanent or long-term solution for the immigrant. It is the last resort for someone who has an open deportation order. If UUS:E offers sanctuary to an individual or family, we can (and truly must) confirm that they have competent legal counsel and that we are providing housing only while they have active legal options in progress. If their legal options become exhausted and their deportation order has not been lifted, sanctuary would end, and they would be forced to leave the country. They would not stay with us in perpetuity.
Where would the person stay?
We likely would transform one of our Garden Level classrooms into a living space for the immigrant(s), who also would have access to the break room, showers, and laundry facilities. The displaced RE class would most likely be held in the chapel.
What does our insurance company have to say about this?
Our insurance company, Church Mutual, informs us that they are working with lots of other congregations who are offering sanctuary, and they are fully prepared to support us.  As long as we don’t break the law, our insurance coverage is unaffected by providing sanctuary. Church Mutual considers this part of the “ministry.” They even have a Risk Control Center (accessible by phone or web) as an ongoing resource to their customer churches, including those specifically involved in sanctuary.
How much will this cost the congregation?
This is difficult to predict. With an individual living in the building, we can anticipate increased costs associated with utility usage, kitchen usage, and staff-time (sexton, minister, office-administrator). With a couple or family living in the building, that usage would increase further. We would expect anyone living in the building to clean up after themselves, but even the best cleaners miss a sport here and there.
In terms of direct financial cost, we anticipate doing fundraising each time a guest stays in the building. While we would invite UUS:E members and friends to contribute, we also have a growing list of people in the wider community who have assured us they will contribute financially as well. In many cases, the guests’ families contribute money for food and other amenities. In the case of the Meriden UU Church, the Muhammed Islamic Center of Greater Hartford raised $2,000 for the church. Most sanctuary congregations report generous support like this. Of course, we cannot predict what kind of support we might receive, but no sanctuary congregation reports that they feel alone in their efforts.
Won’t this be disruptive? 
Yes. Providing one of our rooms to an individual or family would likely be disruptive. But the disruption we would face is minimal in comparison to the disruption a person faces when they are forced to leave family, home, work, and country. Like so many Unitarian Universalist congregations who have already provided sanctuary, it would be a clear demonstration of our second principle, “justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” in action. And although it would be disruptive for us, as Rev. Josh said in his March 4th sermon, “given the need in the nation right now, given the unconscionable lack of compassion on display in Washington, DC these days, given the injustices of our current immigration system, I say it is a spirit-filled risk worth taking.”

Resources for Further Study

For a wonderful article on the way sanctuary impacts those who seek it and those who provide it, see “A Sanctuary of One” in the March 31st issue of the Washington Post.

Two recent AP News articles are very helpful in understanding the experience of immigrants in sanctuary. See “Immigrant Mother Hiding in New York City Church Vows to Stay,” about sanctuary at the Fourth Universalist Church of New York. And see “Housekeeper Welcomes Roles as Symbol in Immigration Fight,” by UUS:E member, Pat Eaton-Robb.

For an article on Unitarian Universalist congregations offering sanctuary to immigrants seeking to avoid deportation, see Three UU Congregations Sheltering Immigrants, from the fall of 2017.

For the story of the UU Church of Meriden current provision of sanctuary to Sujitno Sayuti, see “You Cannot Go Out” from March 2018.

For an in-depth review of what it means to be a Sanctuary Congregation, check out the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Toolkit.

View the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” video.

To review the UUS:E Sanctuary Congregation Team’s weekly reports, click here.

If you have further questions about why UUS:E ought to provide sanctuary, and how we will do it, please contact Judi Durham, Rhona Cohen or Rev. Josh Pawelek.