In brief, our partners the Albany Friends (Quakers) are preparing the space we are hoping to offer for physical sanctuary. We would like to have this space certified as ready to go, and then make a public announcement of Albany UU’s and the Friends’ support of Sanctuary.
The details: When we sought buy-in from the Albany UU congregation this past spring, the informal Sanctuary task force provided a list of activities we would like to consider to aid immigrants and asylum seekers. More than the other activities, offering physical sanctuary was only realistic if the congregation was on record as supporting it. As it turned out, preparing for physical sanctuary was also the most time-consuming of the activities. Fortunately, the Sanctuary task force (now operating under the aegis of the Social Responsibilities Council) was able to put in many hours over the summer contacting other congregations, and Jean Poppei has been indefatigable this fall at consolidating interested groups.
In researching other congregations’ experiences hosting asylum seekers, it quickly became apparent that the volunteer requirements were large, beyond the scale of the Friends and of the Albany UU Sanctuary Task Force. One team will be needed to feed the guest or guests, another to assure overnight coverage, and still another to coordinate health care, communications, translation, clothing, and worship services, as needed.
We have received positive responses from Unity Church, Trinity Methodist, and the First Church (Dutch Reformed). There are interested members at the Shrine Church of the Americas and at St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic, even though those organizations have opted NOT to be known as Sanctuary congregations. In order to consolidate the interested groups, we are working on setting up a planning meeting in an Albany house of worship. The pending meeting should settle on a structure, and general agreement about what the groups can offer or not offer. One tool Jean Poppei found that we think will be very useful is the Cambridge Covenant, which was used for exactly this purpose recently in Massachusetts.
Since the Albany UU congregation passed its resolution supporting Sanctuary in May, these things have happened:
- federal agencies announced and implemented a truly inhumane child separation policy;
- crossing the border, even to seek asylum, was converted from a civil violation to a felonious act, allowing ICE to declare law-abiding refugees and asylum seekers as criminals and target them for deportation;
- a lack of space in the southwest border caused hundreds of asylum seekers to be transported to the Albany County jail and other facilities far from family and legal support;
- the Rensselaer County sheriff spurned the security the county could have had by supporting its immigrant residents, and chose instead to enter into a cooperative agreement with ICE (becoming the only sheriff in the state to do so);
- a Rensselaer County mother of two (and an immigrant from Australia) was detained and targeted for deportation because of a traffic infraction;
- in a direct assault on poor immigrants, federal authorities have proposed a new regulation that would deny residency and citizenship to immigrants who have legally accessed any public assistance, or might be expected to in the future.
Many groups, congregations, and even state agencies have spoken up and fought against these events. Speaking up directly against these policies, the Poor Peoples Campaign focused one of its weeks in the spring on the issue, and that organization has remained intact. Week after week, however, the group which most clearly opposes these policies has been ICE-Free Capital District. They coordinate protestors at political events, and make sure to have observers / supporters outside ICE check-ins. I bring up this group because they are doing some of the things that we say Albany UU should be doing, and Albany UU could learn a lot from these committed activists. Things are not likely to change for the better until showing up at ICE check-ins becomes a mainstream activity, something that a group from Albany UU can join in or coordinate as a group from Albany UU. If we are clear about what we speak for and why we do what we do, then it will be acceptable to take the lead from a group like ICE-Free Capital District.
Albany UU is fortunate to have members who work or volunteer providing direct service to refugees and immigrants. So far, we have not been able to settle on exactly what we can do as a congregation to meet the needs of immigrants and asylum seekers, besides offering physical sanctuary. Some Albany UUs have even said they would be willing to host immigrants in their homes, something that the Sanctuary Task Force has not really considered to this point. We see our role at this point as exploring ways that Albany UUs can help immigrants and asylum seekers while also leveraging the protection we get from being a house of worship, both legal protection and moral protection.
So the progress on Sanctuary is ongoing, with most of the momentum on setting up physical sanctuary. We look forward to continuing to put the other aspects of sanctuary together, with the overall goal of being as welcoming a congregation as we can be to people in many different situations.