(REPORT) — A new kind of “underground railroad” for undocumented immigrants is seeing a rebirth since Donald Trump was elected into office.
The “underground railroad” of U.S. churches protecting undocumented immigrants promises to grow more and more Latino and more cross-faith since Donald Trump was elected as the next President.
The network now has 450 houses of worship, including churches, mosques and synagogues, across the country — more than double the number pre-election — which promise to offer sanctuary to immigrants pursued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, not counting the hundreds more donating money and services.
“We’re in a different universe now,” Reverend Alexia Salvatierra of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America told the New York Times. “We don’t need the white people to rescue us, thank you very much. We need to be in partnership.”
She has seen a spike in volunteers since the Sanctuary Movement that first began in the 1960s was revived under President Barack Obama’s administration, which deported about three million undocumented immigrants — a record number. Many of the congregations, some led by immigrants, serve their own members, and synagogues and mosques are organizing to participate, as well.
In recent years, thousands of Latino churches have also become actively involved in protecting immigrants, added Pastor Salvatierra. This stands in contrast to the 1980s, when mostly white Protestant churches filled this role.
The network began during the Vietnam War to keep authorities away from conscientious objectors and expanded to protect Central Americans fleeing violence in the 1980s. Now, places of worship — like schools and hospitals — are considered safe from ICE raids, but parishioners are preparing for that to change under Trump.
The President-elect has said he will deport at least two million undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but religious leaders insist that the people they protect are only guilty of “white-collar crimes” like identity forgery, if they are guilty at all. They also come from around the world, including the Middle East. Some are even pursued by their own church leaders.
The movement is comprised of an assortment of left-leaning institutions, but some draw more inspiration from the Bible than from politics: one Los Angeles church proclaimed “holy resistance” to the incoming administration. How far each is willing to go will be known next year.
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