‘Sanctuary churches’ pledge to house scared immigrants

Michigan United partnering with churches in several cities to create safe havens

michigan united, sanctuary churches
A Michigan United press conference in Kalamazoo on March 14, 2017 to discuss a program to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in Kalamazoo and Calhoun county churches. (March 14, 2017)


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan organization is working to protect immigrants who fear deportation by housing them in churches.

Michigan United has partnered with a dozen or so Calhoun and Kalamazoo County churches — some in secret — that have agreed to act as safe havens for people concerned they may be at risk of deportation.

“We’re here today to say with a united voice that we stand with the immigrant and refugee families here in Kalamazoo,” Pastor Nathan Dannison said Tuesday at a press conference at First Congregational Church in downtown Kalamazoo.

Organizers of the so-called “resistance” effort handed out a 2011 memo in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it would not perform planned operations or arrests at churches or other sensitive sites barring extraordinary circumstances.

Leaders told stories of undocumented immigrants who are afraid to go outside, afraid their families will be torn apart because of President Donald Trump’s stricter stance on immigration.

“They won’t even go to Wal-Mart. They’re just terrified to go to the store,” Milwood United Methodist Church Pastor Kim Clark said.

But is the fear of ICE coming to people’s homes justified?

“I have heard that it has happened in Michigan. I have not particularly heard that it has happened in Kalamazoo,” Michigan United volunteer Nelly Fuentes said. “ICE is in Kalamazoo regularly picking up people with warrants. I have not heard anything about massive raids.”

And while Pastor Clark said he had heard anecdotes of ICE arrests, he said he didn’t know any families that had experienced one.

Regardless, Fuentes said the Trump administration has increased “hatred against people who are brown.”

“We just keep getting pounded and pounded with this administration,” she added.

She said immigrants come to the U.S. fleeing terrible conditions.

“People are leaving their homes because they absolutely have to. They must otherwise they will perish,” she said. “I am grateful that this (the sanctuary church effort) is here but it should not be needed.”

Michigan United is a statewide group that advocates for immigration reform, among other things. It says it will help anyone from the West Michigan area and hopes to get some grand Rapids-area churches on board. It is also organizing similar efforts in other cities, including Detroit.

Those looking to benefit from the sanctuary churches can contact Michigan United online.