Tucson churches to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- With just a few days until President-Elect Donald Trump takes office, about a dozen congregations came together in Tucson to voice support for undocumented immigrants.

"Right now there's a lot of fear in our communities, there's a lot of anxiety," said Reverend Alison Harrington. "The clergy in Southern Arizona really want to say strongly to folks who might be feeling that, that we are here, and we're not going anywhere."

The Southside Presbyterian Church hosted a ceremony Wednesday night. Other local churches all vowing to be sanctuaries for those under the threat of deportation.

Churches, along with schools and hospitals, are designated sensitive locations. That means U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents avoid them, and can only enforce law enforcement actions with special approval and under special circumstances. 

Harrington says the church was the first to publicly announce sanctuary back in the 1980's. She says during that ten year span, the church helped an estimated 14,000 people who were fleeing violence in Central America.

There is no one seeking sanctuary at the church now, and Harrington is not expecting a huge influx of people when Trump takes office. 

"What we are expecting is the need to do a lot of work in the community, to reassure people and to get people to understand their rights and to push for better local policies," Harrington said. 

Proponents say that sanctuary policies make undocumented immigrants more likely to cooperate with police so law enforcement can crack down on more dangerous criminals. Critics however say those policies allow churches to help immigrants break the law and remain in the country illegally. 

President-Elect Trump has vowed to crack down on sanctuary cities.

Rosa Robles Loreto attended Wednesday's gathering. She spent 15 months in sanctuary at the Southside Presbyterian Church, and now has a message for others. 

"Ask for help, and demonstrate to the government that we are hardworking people," Loreto said. "We are not delinquents and we are here to fight for our families, and we need that opportunity."

Reverend Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank is the district superintendent with the United Methodist Church in Southern Arizona. She says their congregation can have up to 30 to 40 people staying with them. Typically, Escobedo-Frank says ICE officials bring immigrants to the church where they are taken care of while waiting to be taken to family. 

Escobedo-Frank says many of the families include young children, and are running away from very dangerous situations in Central American countries. 

"It's usually about life and death for them more than anything else," Escobedo-Frank said. 

"We are all people together, and so there are problems in the world that are beyond us," Escobedo-Frank said. "And it's our job to help out when we can."

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