Last week, an Albuquerque church offered sanctuary to an Albuquerque grandmother under threat of deportation. Her name is Emma – she’s originally from Honduras and she’s been living in the U.S. for 25 years. The Albuquerque church is one of over a dozen churches in the nation to provide sanctuary to an immigrant.
KUNM’s Chris Boros spoke with Justin Remer-Thamert about this case – he’s the executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
Remer-Thamert: Emma’s a woman who has been in the United States for 25 years and she contacted the Faith Coalition about her situation. She had an upcoming court visit with immigration and instead of going to that visit she was afraid that she would be detained and so the Faith Coalition has been in conversation with a number of faith communities across Albuquerque about their opening doors for sanctuary. So we brought this request to a number of those churches and the Quaker Meeting House said they would be open to receiving her.
KUNM: And so how much protection does the church offer her?
Remer-Thamert: That’s a very good question and that’s one that we’re continuing to figure out. At the ICE check-in that she had, immigration told her lawyer that there are certain locations where they won’t go. And so we would like to think that means that they’re continuing to honor the sensitive locations memo which says that hospitals, places of worship and schools are places that ICE will not go.
KUNM: If ICE showed up, could the church say, “No, we’re not letting you in”?
Remer-Thamert: The volunteers who are stationed there 24/7 do have a protocol to make sure that ICE is complying with the legal process and so in so far as they are stepping outside of their legal bounds, the church would say, “You are not open to come in.”
KUNM: And there is a history of sanctuary churches here in the states, right?
Remer-Thamert: That’s correct. Going back to the 1980s, churches have opened their doors to offer sanctuary to Central American families primarily who are fleeing war. The Quakers were actually one who at that time were part of the process in supporting the sanctuary movement and so this is something that has had something of a resurgence over the last few years for people who should have prosecutorial discretion or who have a situation where they don’t fall under the deportation priorities of an administration. And so sanctuary right now is taking that form of encouraging the administration and ICE to honor deportation priorities and humanitarian parole for families like Emma.
KUNM: What do you think compels a congregation or a religious group to open their doors to someone like Emma?
Remer-Thamert: I think that a lot of people see this as a way to put their faith into action, that these are tying times and we’ve seen so many people who have been targeted because of their religion, because of their nationality or their immigration status and people of faith and individuals of morale conscious recognize that there is something that we can do that and we must do – that we must put our bodies on their line and really live into our faith values.
KUNM: Are you at all concerned that ICE may no longer recognize these sanctuary churches?
Remer-Thamert: It certainly is a concern. Of the churches that have offered sanctuary across the country ICE has respected those boundaries and we are hoping that they will continue to. Cases like Emma’s are very sympathetic and I think targeting someone who has US citizen children, who is a grandmother and who has an American husband would be very detrimental to our understanding of what due process is and the kinds of people who want in our community.