Sanctuary Movement

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Reverend Ken Heintzelman, senior minister of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ talks about the sanctuary movement, where churches shelter undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Jose Cardenas: Three undocumented immigrants have taken sanctuary in churches this year in Arizona and three churches have offered to provide shelter to four individuals. This revives a popular movement from the 1980s that sought to help central American migrants fleeing Civil Wars stay in the U.S. by letting them live inside churches. Shadow rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix was one of the churches that offered sanctuary to a man facing deportation this summer. Here to talk about this movement is Reverend Ken Heintzelman, senior minister with shadow rock united church of Christ in Phoenix. Reverend Ken, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." You made the offer; it hasn't been accepted because it turned out that what deportation proceedings were postponed?

Ken Heintzelman: You know, what had happened, it was really interesting that the day that those things were to unfold, where we were going to offer sanctuary and declare sanctuary, there was final negotiations between a legal team, Marco TULIO and immigration officials, and they -- the immigration officials were able to use an administrative avenue that, in fact, would give Marco a stay of removal so that he was able to stay with his job, stay with his family, and stay in his neighborhood, and remain here, and this is something that he had applied for two other times. He made application. He very much wanted to operate within the boundaries and his application just was not even being accepted, let alone processed. So, when his story came to various advocates, they decided to work on his behalf, but also knowing that an order of deportation could happen, it could come, and so we offered sanctuary as a way to stand between a system that's broken that would tear him away from his family, and the unity of his family. As a congregation, we stood in the gap.

Jose Cardenas: And you would have taken Marco and his family into the church and had him live on church grounds, is that right?

Ken Heintzelman: That is right. We had set up several rooms where there were mattresses and sheets and we were going to provide food and dining facilities and ways for family and friends and also community groups to come in and for us to embrace each other and pray and hope for the best.

Jose Cardenas: Now, we made reference in the introduction to the 1980 sanctuary movement, south side Presbyterian in Tucson was one of the churches involved and I understand they're one of the churches involved at this time as well. To my knowledge, the legal question about whether churches can actually do this, and stay within the law, has not been resolved.

Ken Heintzelman: That's my understanding as well, that it's -- it has not been resolved, and first of all, south side Presbyterian and to reverend Allison Harrington and to that congregation for providing leadership. We want to say thank you to them. But in terms of, you know, does sanctuary really do anything, in terms of does it keep law enforcement from coming in the church and taking the person and executing the orders that they had to deport a person -- the sanctuary has no legal status. It is a moral stand. It is one of compassion. It is one of justice, and what is best for these individuals and for these families and ultimately really we believe what's best for our community.

Jose Cardenas: So, if legal authorities come to the church, let's say Marco had taken sanctuary in south side -- rather in shadow Presbyterian, your church, and if legal authorities had come seeking to arrest him, would you in any way have physically prevented them from doing so, either by locking the church doors or in some other way denying them access?

Ken Heintzelman: I don't think we would have locked any church doors. I think that there would have been several of us that simply would have stood passively between the officials and the family, and to literally physically stand with the family. They would have had to, I don't know what they would do. That would be up to them.

Jose Cardenas: Now, some people draw distinction between what happened in the '80s and what the churches are doing now and the distinction they draw, those people were subject to death, persecution if they were returned to in that case EL Salvador, which is where many of the migrants were coming from. Marco TULIO is from Mexico and the consequences to returning him to Mexico many would argue are not the same and therefore, these efforts are not justified. How do you respond to that?

Ken Heintzelman: I think that historically politically they're probably -- there are some differences. And I wouldn't -- wouldn't disagree with that, but I think that the church's response, when based on what is just and what is most fair and what is most compassionate for the individuals that are most adversely affected by a system's decision and a system's policy, procedures, the church's response to that is pretty much the same. It comes from understanding that we as human beings are loving our neighbor and loving other human beings, and why the suffering may be different, it's still suffering. And it's still an injustice that we need to stand against.

Jose Cardenas: One last question. A lot of discussion in the news this week about President Obama's decision to not take executive action at this time, as regards to immigration. We're not sure exactly what he would have done anyway, but there was a suggestion that he made sometime ago that in the face of congressional inaction, he would do something to at least minimize the number of deportations. How much of a factor would that play going forward in your church's decision to extend sanctuary to others who might be facing deportation?

Ken Heintzelman: I -- I really don't think it is going to be much of a factor in terms of our decision of how we respond to the need of families and the need of our neighbor. I think that, you know, there is -- I think there are some misunderstandings, you know, that somehow as a church we're breaking the law or we are in an act of civil disobedience. I would say we are more in an act of cultural disobedience, in that the culture is not friendly to immigration, that the truth is is that immigration has administrative avenues already, for example, with Marco TULIO, the day that he was to come in for sanctuary, an administrative decision was made to give him a stay of removal so that he could return to his family and return to his work. So, the tools are already there. We're not acting in civil disobedience. We're asking that immigration use the policy and procedure that they have. Now, can President Obama do more? Yes. Has he hesitated for political reasons? It seems so. Are we disappointed in that and are families greatly affected by that delay? Yes, they are.

Jose Cardenas: On that note of disappointment, which I know many share, we're going to have to end the interview. We're out of time. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about sanctuary movement, at least the 21st Century version of it.

Ken Heintzelman: Thank you so much.

Ken Heintzelman:Senior Minister, Shadow Rock United Church of Christ;

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