Church hosts sanctuary rally for immigrants and refugees

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COLUMBIA – Despite President Trump's rhetoric and promises, a Columbia church affirmed its commitment to providing a safe place for immigrants and refugees.

Faith Voices of Columbia, the Unitarian Universalist Church and members of the community gathered to launch a sanctuary network in Columbia at a rally on Tuesday. The church also officially began its tenure as a sanctuary congregation after members voted to become one on April 9. It joined the new Sanctuary Movement that began in 2007, restarting a movement that originally began in the 1980s.

"The movement is particularly concerned with keeping families together," Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia Minister, Rev. Molly Housh Gordon said.

The vote came in response to Trump's campaign promises and actions after taking office concerning immigration policy.

"We voted for this because we hear from our neighbors and we hear from our friends, who are immigrants, that they are frightened," congregation member Suzanne Hansford-Bowles said.

During his campaign, Trump repeatedly spoke of mass deportations and a "deportation force."

Since taking the oath office, Trump has not been as outspoken about illegal immigration but said during his address to Congress in February, "I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation's security, and to restore respect for our laws."

Speakers included people from the church, other religious leaders, a local immigration attorney and immigrants. They spoke about the need for solidarity and support amongst immigrant, refugees and other marginalized communities.

As a sanctuary congregation, the church would provide refuge for undocumented immigrants attempting to avoid deportation. Gordon said the church does not believe providing sanctuary would violate the law.

"My faith tells me that every person has worth and dignity, and every person has gifts that they bring into our world and into our communities, and that we need to have policy that allows those gifts to shine and that allows people to thrive, and that we need to value the dignity of every person," Gordon said. 

The Department of Homeland Security has special guidelines for dealing with "sensitive places," which includes places of worship. Officials need "exigent circumstances" or church approval to detain someone at the church, according to the DHS website.