Nineteen faith groups in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are setting up an emergency hotline to help undocumented immigrants who need help during a deportation raid, hoping to shed light on the federal government’s renewed effort to forcibly remove people from the country.
Organizers of the program, which is being called “Sanctuary in the Streets,” say they are responding to news that the federal government will launch a new wave of deportation raids in May and June. The congregations — all which participate in what is being called the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) — say they will form teams of volunteers to provide rapid respond support in the event of a hotline call, training them to rush to the site of the raid, hold a prayer vigil, film the event, and comfort the family.
“The goal … is to be in solidarity for the families being raided, and shine a light on what ICE is doing and apply pressure to encourage them to stop doing raids,” said Peter Pedemonti, a representative of the NSM in Philadelphia.
As people of faith — if we really take our faith seriously — we need to be there.
The hotline is a shift in tactics for NSM, whose churches and other faith communities already pledged to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants who are subject to deportation. Inspired by an older “Sanctuary Movement” that harbored Central Americans who fled civil wars to seek safety in America during 1980s, a Presbyterian church in Arizona began harboring undocumented immigrants in their church in 2014, holding ICE accountable to an internal policy of not infiltrating churches, hospitals, and schools to apprehend immigrants.
The effort slowly expanded to other churches in the region, but became a truly nationwide movement after the federal government launched a series of nighttime deportation raids in January. The raids primary targeted refugees fleeing from unspeakable violence in Central America.
“We believe that the teachings from our faith traditions aren’t just suggestions, they’re really serious calls about how we should live our life,” Pedemonti said. “To be a good neighbor, you need to be actively with people who are being terrorized, persecuted, and enduring injustice. If someone in our city has armed police showing up at their door to drag away a family member because they don’t have their papers … as people of faith — if we really take our faith seriously — we need to be there.”
The raids have become a flashpoint between immigration activists and the Obama administration, which supports immigration reform but continues to deport thousands. In May, about a dozen activists interrupted a speech by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson by shouting “education, not deportation” and “stop the raids” before being escorted out by police.
Pedemonti explained that his group plans to run the hotline for several months, and will reevaluate its effectiveness after the new spat of raids.
“There is a rising movement of people of faith calling on ICE for moral accountability,” he said. “I think that voice is getting stronger and stronger.”