Saint Paul Lutheran Church announced yesterday that it would function as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants in the event of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
This follows on the heels of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently declaring itself as a sanctuary church body that would support the rights of immigrants and refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
The decision made by the ELAC came in response to President Trump’s policies at the U.S. border with Mexico and his pledge on Twitter to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
Saint Paul Lutheran Church Associate Pastor Nelson Rabell, who leads a Spanish ministry, said he is proud of the ELCA for deciding to support people being targeted by the immigration policies coming from the White House.
“I am happy that we are the first denomination to do this, it is long overdue. This will help give us the tools to advocate for the vulnerable members of our parish,” Rabell said.
Rabell, who joined the church last year, was hired on to help bridge the gap between the Lodi community and its Latino population.
“Since the beginning, I knew that immigration would be an issue that was going to be a big part of the ministry, and we at St. Paul knew we wanted to provide a sanctuary to the community,” Rabell said.
While the church will serve as an advocating entity and a safe house host during ICE raids, it will not be able to house families and individuals indefinitely because it lacks certain features such as showers.
The ELCA released a statement that said each congregation would be responsible for determining the definition of “sanctuary.”
“While we don’t yet know the full scope of the work that this declaration will open for the church we do know that our faith communities are already doing sanctuary work,” the statement read.
The ELCA defines sanctuary as taking many forms, and that includes offering English as second language classes, hosting workshops, marching against the detention of migrant children and families, providing housing for people facing deportation or having conversations about the topic.
St. Paul leaders have actively participated in demonstrations and protests in Stockton and Sacramento that have opposed the separation of families by federal officials as well as the conditions of detention centers.
“We are using our power to promote and enhance the life of migrants in our community, and by doing our part to speak up on their behalf during the national discourse,” Rabell said.
Members of the ministry at St. Paul are active members of an interfaith coalition known as Faith in the Valley, which provides a network for undocumented immigrants in the event of an ICE raid through social media platforms and text messages. People have utilized networks such as Faith in the Valley to report ICE activity and give tips about potential raids.
“It is important that we see these immigrants as people and not a problem. We need to restore our moral compasses and preserve our humanity,” Rabell said.
In the event of an ICE raid, members of the community can seek refuge at the church. Local Latino leaders have access to the church to help migrants get access to the church.
Rabell stated that while the church does serve as a sanctuary for its undocumented community, if ICE issues a warrant for criminals the church will have to surrender the individuals listed in any warrants.
“Our purpose is to protect. We are not looking for trouble or to break any laws that would jeopardize the safety of others,” Rabell said.
By acting as a sanctuary, ICE officials will be required to provide court-ordered affidavits and search warrants to enter the church property, according to Rabell.
“It starts with them looking for one person and before you know it seven people are being taken into custody,” Rabell said.
As the threat of deportation looms many children are carrying the burden of stress, Rabell said.
“Many of these children come from mixed-status families, and the threat of deportation has caused panic and anxiety in these children.”
Rabell, who is a father, says his determination to protect his congregation stems from empathy.
“I always think, what if those were my kids, and that is why I am so passionate about protecting them (undocumented parishioners),” he said.
Rabell feels it is important for community members to know the church is there to protect them, and that the ministry is there to listen to the concern of the community while actively helping them.
The ELCA is advocating that Congress work to pass comprehensive immigration reform that is mutually beneficial to citizens and those looking to become citizens.
“We are working to make a moral statement that will lead to action being taken,” said Rabell, who hopes the action taken by St. Paul will inspire other churches and temples to follow suit.
The church will host a public information workshop residents interested in learning how to get involved with the church on Sunday at 2 p.m. at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 701 S. Pleasant Ave.
There will also be free legal assistance provided by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, for immigrants seeking citizenship.