By Mario A. Cortez
This week a local church opened up its door as a safe space for members of the community facing the threat of deportation.
First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest held a press conference at its campus to announce its decision to become a sanctuary congregation for immigrants who are at risk of being deported from the United States.
The new “sanctuary congregation,” as the arrangement is dubbed, will offer a place to stay for those who have an active order of deportation and undergoing hearings, provided that they have legal representation. The church hopes that by providing a place to stay for immigrants facing their process that the respective legal processes can happen at an adequate pace and not be rushed.
The church will be offering a meeting room as a living space so that sanctuary recipients can stay in. This space can host an individual or a family. Sanctuary guests will have access to showers and a kitchen located on the campus.
The start of this program comes in the wake of several developments related to the ongoing debate over immigration reform and a solution for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more commonly known as DACA, which was terminated in September of last year.
Following the Trump Administration’s termination of DACA, congregation leadership at First Unitarian Universalist Church looked into ways of providing help in the community to whose who might be affected by DACA’s termination and the uptick in immigration enforcement in local communities.
Ian Riddell, minister of worship at First Universalist, explained to La Prensa San Diego that First Universalist’s decision to become a sanctuary congregation had been under discussion and analysis for months. During the time in which the idea of offering immigrants facing a deportation process shelter was being evaluated, a number of community meetings and conversations were held prior to putting the decision to a congregational vote.
The vote, which was held on Sunday, March 25, yielded a 93 percent approval rate from the 700-member congregation for adoption of the program.
Riddell believes that the move to become a sanctuary congregation is one which aligns with the values that his organization follows.
“This action is grounded in our values, we are founded on the values of the worth and dignity of the individual and compassion in human relations,” he said. “The immigration system is broken and it is treating people as if they were not human; we are committed to fair and kind and generous treatment of all individuals.”
The press conference held to announce the start of this church’s program featured a number of local and religious leaders who called for a better treatment of immigrants in their communities.
District 3 Councilman Chris Ward, whose family is affiliated to the congregation, expressed that he is happy to be part of this effort and that this is only a small step in preventing the criminalization of innocent San Diegans.
“Immigrants are nearly a quarter of our population in San Diego and part of the core of what makes this such a special place,” Ward said.
“It is easy to say we are better than this but it is more difficult and far more important that we prove it . We have made a promise that even during this chaotic time, even amid the hateful rhetoric, that immigrants will have a place in this city and in our faith communities,” Ward continued.
For Katia Ortiz, a DACA recipient and a coordinator for the San Diego Rapid Response Network, the opening of this space is a ray of hope and an example to follow for other churches and faith-based organizations.
She also expressed that while the sanctuary space has barely been opened up, it is ready to host people in need.
“We have a lot of work to do and we are barely starting but we are ready to help anyone who needs this resource,” Ortiz stated.