When the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Colorado, decided last month to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants, it spurred local parents to pull their children from the pre-school that rented space at the church. The flight of the children started in September and continued unabated. As a result, the pre-school will close by the end of November. Tina Davis, the director of Active Boulder Kids Preschool, said of the change, “Because the church made the decision, parents were uncomfortable.”

It was after months of deliberation that the church arrived at its decision, voting 90 percent in favor on October 29 to serve as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. 

Under the current policies of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, churches are so far considered off limits for deportation officers. In addtion, schools are also considered sensitive locations. It is thereby that churches throughout the country have announced their status as sanctuaries where illegal immigrants will be afforded protection from deportation.

At the church in Boulder, the congregation has installed a shower for use by the immigrants. In addition, new locks and policies have been introduced. So far, no illegal immigrants have been housed at the church, which is working with a Denver-based group that will recommend one. While the pastor said the Denver group only works with nonviolent immigrants, she was not sure what that means in practice. Once there is an illegal immigrant on the premises, the pastor said that ICE will be notified.

While taking sanctuary has an age-old tradition, it was during the Obama years that there was a surge of deportations that pushed some immigrants to seek shelter in churches. Interest was piqued again after President Donald Trump demanded stricter adherence to immigration laws and policies. 

Currently, there are more than 700 religious congregations that have announced their availability as sanctuaries, according to the Sanctuary Movement. The movement will offer sanctuary to thousands of illegal immigrants from Nicaragua, in wake of the Trump administration’s decision to end temporary special protected status for Nicaraguans who have been in the country for nearly two decades after Hurricane Mitch devastated their homes.

Parents were angered by how the church arrived at its decision, while some wanted earlier notice that immigrants are to be invited to stay. Some parents continue to attend services at the church.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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