Stories of Christians providing refuge to Jews during the Second World War have edified us. From afar, we admire their heroism amid the daily risks they faced. The alternative for Jews who weren’t given refuge was the exterminations camps of the Holocaust.
Could it be that we are facing a similar situation in North America today? Americans are moving in that direction.
A recent CNN story reported that an underground network is preparing homes in Los Angeles to hide undocumented immigrants. Pastor Ada Valiente is part of a movement that is refurbishing homes to host immigrant families.
By “host,” she means providing refuge to people who may be sought by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families are undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation.
Valiant belongs to a network formed by Los Angeles inter-faith leaders in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. Their intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California.
Their plan is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.
“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente told CNN.
The sanctuary movement is not something new in the United States. The sanctuary movement began in the 1980s when U.S. congregations resisted federal law and provided shelter for Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries. Many congregations provided housing for undocumented immigrants; others offered food and legal assistance.
The current movement is providing additional protection in private homes. Federal agents need a warrant to enter a home. This offers a higher level of constitutional protection than houses of worship. It makes it harder for federal agents to find undocumented immigrants because churches and synagogues are technically public spaces that authorities could enter to conduct law enforcement actions.
Many Christian congregations base their involvement in the sanctuary movement on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25, which teaches disciples to feed the hungry and fight for those in prison. Jews who are part of the movement base their involvement on their experiences during the Second World War.
“It’s hard as a Jew,” one Jewis person told CNN, “not to think about both all the people who did open their doors and their homes and take risks to safeguard Jews in (a) moment when they were really vulnerable, as well as those who didn’t. We’d like to be the people who did.”
Catholics are also becoming vocal supporters of the sanctuary movement. Pope Francis’ constant calls to support migrants is one motivation. Another is the Gospel call to resist unjust or immoral laws. The Acts of the Apostles 5:29, for example, calls on Christians to obey God rather than human beings.
This was the basis of American bishops opposing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that Catholic hospitals, universities and other institutions violate their consciences. The U.S. bishops proclaimed the following:
“An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the newly named pastor of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., has said the current policies of the U.S. administration toward immigrants and refugees is at odds with the clear command of the Scriptures to welcome the vulnerable stranger.
San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy told participants at a recent Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif., that President Trump was the candidate of disruption. “Well now we must all become disruptors,” he said, calling immigration the key issue for Catholics in their local churches.
“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children,” he said.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago once famously said that while he would die in his bed, one of his successors could well die in prison, given the secular trends in North America today. That is the unexpected challenge facing Christians today.