World

Love thy neighbor: US churches protect migrants from Trump law

March 10, 2018
Business owner Oscar Canales holds his son, George, as he speaks during an interview at the Congregational United Church of Christ where he is living in sanctuary in Greensboro, North Carolina, in this Feb. 12, 2018 file photo. — AFP
Business owner Oscar Canales holds his son, George, as he speaks during an interview at the Congregational United Church of Christ where he is living in sanctuary in Greensboro, North Carolina, in this Feb. 12, 2018 file photo. — AFP

GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Business owner Oscar Canales has spent the past three months confined to a church basement in the US city of Greensboro, knowing he could face deportation to El Salvador the moment he steps outside.

Expulsion would mean tearing him apart from his wife and three American children, not to mention shuttering the thriving roofing company he founded which today employs six US citizens.

Canales first came to authorities’ attention six years ago, when he was arrested for lacking papers following a minor accident at a traffic light.

But with no criminal record, past administrations chose to overlook the fact he crossed the border illegally in 2005 and issued him work permits that were renewed every year.

Now, he and millions of others are facing expulsion under tough new immigration guidelines instituted by President Donald Trump.

In response, some progressive Christian groups have boosted their efforts to protect vulnerable migrants by exploiting the protected “sanctuary” status of their places of worship while providing shelter and legal aid to would-be deportees.

Canales, who received his deportation order last December, has been living in the United Church of Christ since Jan.17.

He cannot imagine leaving America. “All my family is here, my wife, my kids,” he says, adding he is fearful of being forced to face the violent gangs of a homeland he left long ago.

“They can take one kid and ask for money. If you don’t give it today, they can do anything. They can kill people.”

Canales is among more than 40 people currently known to be taking sanctuary in US churches, a figure that has skyrocketed since Trump’s election in 2016, when there were just five, according to the Reverend Noel Andersen of the Church World Service which tracks the movement.

“Under the Obama era there was a lot more prosecutorial discretion” especially for those who have committed low-level offenses such as traffic violations, or had community or family ties like Canales, he said.

“Essentially Trump comes in and gets rid of the priority guidelines, and anyone who is undocumented is a priority” — a group that is estimated to number some 11 million.

In Trump’s first year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 109,000 criminals and 46,000 people without criminal records — a 171 percent increase in the number of non-criminal arrests over 2016.

The goals of the sanctuary movement are to prevent the break-up of families, win legal reprieve for as many people as they can, and effect narrative change.

Their philosophy is at odds with the anti-immigration tide that has swept the country’s political right, particularly in many southern states which are also a bastion of right-leaning Evangelicals.

But for the Reverend Julie Peeples, the Greensboro pastor, her duty to provide shelter to those in need couldn’t be more clear.

“Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves, that was the most important command of all,” said the soft spoken preacher who has led her congregation since 1991. — AFP


March 10, 2018
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