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Local faith leaders learn to become sanctuaries

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Declaring a house of worship a sanctuary for immigrants in imminent danger should be done in the spirit of civil disobedience, Ryan Bates, executive director of Michigan United told a group of faith leaders on Saturday.

Ryan Bates, executive director of Michigan United presented how local houses of worship could become sanctuary places.

Nearly 50 members of the faith community from across Metro Detroit spent Saturday afternoon learning how to become a sanctuary for people who could face deportation under President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Bates lead a multi-hour training session for the group, comprised of Christian, Jewish and Muslim people at an UAW hall in Dearborn. The training day is part of the growing sanctuary church movement in response to the Trump administration's immigration crackdown.

To some churches, sanctuary means spiritual support or legal assistance to fight deportation. Others promise or already are extending physical sanctuary by housing immigrants.

Bates said immigration law is discretionary and the idea behind providing sanctuary is asking prosecutors to use their power of discretion.

Nearly 50 members of the faith community from across Metro Detroit spent Saturday afternoon learning how to become a sanctuary for people who could face deportation under President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“There is no law here. We are drawing on the sanctity of religious institutions. This is about moral force and public relations,” Bates said.

Officials with Michigan United said immigrant families are under more threat than ever. But communities are standing up and standing together to provide Sanctuary in the case of a new wave of raids and deportations.

Michigan United offered the training to leaders of churches, mosques, masjids, temples and synagogues to create a safe place where immigrant families can seek refuge.

Sanctuary can be done two ways: public and private.

Under a public sanctuary, a house of worship must agree to run a campaign for the family in imminent threat of removal. That can include petition signing, phone banks, vigils, marches and online and social media campaigns.

“Without the pressure it’s less impact. You are just housing someone living in your church,” Bates said.

Private sanctuary is housing a family without the campaign. This is done most often first, before a public campaign, or in a case where a legal resolution is likely.

Gail Presbey, a member at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, raised her hand at the event and asked who is the most likely person to get arrested, the one on duty at the church or the leader of an institution.

Presbey said she wanted to know because the last arrest connected to a sanctuary case was in 1987 during the Reagan administration.

“It is important to tell people, is the person making the hot meal going to get arrested?” Presbey said.

Bates said he imagined it would be the ring leaders, but he could not say for sure.

“We may or we may not be breaking the law,” Bates said.

Francis Shor, a member at Birmingham Temple which has about 300 members in Farmington Hills, said the temple publicly declared on Wednesday it was a sanctuary for immigrants.

Shor came to the training session on Saturady with three other members to learn more about the process. He said his temple does not have the room to house immigrants but wants to help.

“We need to strategize on how to make those connections and find the families in need,” Shor said. “What are the implications of being a sanctuary and how to mount a campaign.”

There were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.

JChambers@detroitnews.com