This story was updated April 5, 2017.
In a policy statement on sanctuaries released by the Archdiocese of Portland March 28, the archdiocese encourages parish and community support for undocumented immigrants through various means but cautions against the illegal act of shielding these people from policy and law enforcement agencies.
The term is not one used in either church law or American law today the statement said. The act of providing what was once called “sanctuary,” or asylum for those who have broken government laws, is illegal.
“When sanctuary is meant to shield undocumented immigrants from lawful government authorities, the term ‘sanctuary’ is both illegal and also implies legal ramifications that the Archdiocese of Portland cannot endorse,” the document states.
“Calling yourself a sanctuary could in fact have unintended consequences of making it easier for immigration officials to search your premises,” it goes on to say.
Sanctuary is much more than providing a physical space for someone at risk of deportation; it is a strategy and set of actions for faith communities, faith-based organizations, and people of conscience.
The document offers multiple ways for these groups to show support for undocumented immigrants:
1) Supporting community members through advocacy. This would include facilitating “Know Your Rights” talks which are offered by Catholic Charities, providing legal referrals or legal clinics or connecting immigrants with lawyers before deportation interrogations become a reality.
2) Offering friendship and community. Providing parish activities which allow community members to feel at home and part of the parish family and creating intentional encounters between Hispanic and non-Hispanic parishioners.
Quoting a statement of support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the document encourages pastors to remain committed to care for and respect the dignity of all people, regardless of legal status.
“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. We are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey,” said the quote from the bishops' conference.
The policy ends with recommendations for when immigration officials come to search a building or property. These include asking for identification and the reason for the visit and reviewing any documents authorities have (specifically an arrest warrant). The statement urges parishes to call the archdiocese’s legal affairs office if authorities want to search a parish without a warrant.