Nine houses of worship in Michigan officially declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants today, calling upon other houses of worship to join them.
They called upon congregations to stand on what they say is "the right side of history" as the U.S. government toughens immigration enforcement.
"We will not stand idly by while injustice occurs," Rev. Jill Zundell, senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church, said at a press conference at her church. "We have a message today for Donald Trump: If you want these families you're gonna have to come through us."
In metro Detroit, five Protestant churches and a Jewish synagogue said they will be sanctuary congregations. An additional two churches identified themselves as solidarity congregations, meaning they will support others who are sanctuary congregations.
Zundell has said they're in touch with two undocumented immigrant families, and are currently housing a family from Africa seeking asylum.
In Kalamazoo, another three Protestant churches also declared today they are sanctuary congregations. Others are expected by the end of this week, said Ryan Bates, director of Michigan United, an advocacy group that often works on immigrant issues.
"You're on safer legal ground if you declare it publicly," Bates said.
Zundell said that bringing publicity to cases can help prevent deportations in some instances, citing the case of an immigrant in Ann Arbor from Jordan whose deportation was stopped after public protests.
"Public pressure works," she said. "Solidarity works."
Muslim and Catholic leaders also spoke at the press conference, expressing support, though no Muslim or Catholic congregations in Michigan have declared themselves sanctuaries.
Three African-American Protestant churches in Michigan are among the congregations declaring support, including Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Metropolitan Zion AME Church in Detroit, and Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Hamtramck.
"In the spirit of Harriet Tubman" and other leaders, "we declare ourselves a place of sanctuary," said Rev Louis Forsythe II, pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. "Where do we stand in times of injustice?"
"Join us, make your house of worship a sanctuary."
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills cited the message of the Statue of Liberty, "whose flame we will not allow to extinguish."
Imam Mohamed Almasmari, of the Michigan Muslim Community Council and leader at the Unity Center mosque in Bloomfield Hills, said it's "a religious obligation" in Islam to be merciful. He expressed concern about families being broken up as the U.S. steps up deportations, which sometimes results in families being split up.
"What kind of America do we want to be?" he said.
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo
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