Local Church Offers Sanctuary for Immigrants

A local church will soon open its doors to undocumented residents in a time of heavy law enforcement. Photo of the New Paltz Dutch Reform Church by Brandon Doerrer.

A local church is almost ready to house undocumented immigrants who are in danger of being deported.

The pastor, who requested anonymity to speak freely on the subject, said that the church should be ready to receive and provide temporary housing to immigrants seeking sanctuary in the next few weeks once a shower is installed. Once settled, immigrants would be provided with psychological and medical support in the church, given that they would not be able to leave the building during their stay. The church would also provide care for the immigrant’s family, as well as legal support and efforts to develop exit strategies. 

According to the pastor, this church is one of several local churches that will offer these services.

However, it remains unclear how safe churches are from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. A memorandum created in 2011 titled “Enforcement Actions at or Focused on Sensitive Locations” states that it is designed to ensure enforcement actions do not take place at locations such as schools, hospitals, funerals and churches without prior approval or pressing circumstances. These enforcement actions include arrests, interviews, searches and surveillance. However, the memorandum does not prevent ICE agents from entering churches for these purposes provided they have prior approval from one of several ICE officials. 

It is for these reasons that the pastor makes sure that anyone who is involved in helping provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants is aware of the legal risks they potentially face. 

Churches of various denominations around the nation have opened their doors to undocumented immigrants following increased incentive from the Trump administration for ICE agents to deport undocumented immigrants. However, for the pastor, it’s less about seeking out immigrants to help, but rather providing these services to anyone who may require them without asking questions about proper documentation.

“We don’t need to know about papers,” the pastor said. “When we get calls from people who need sanctuary, we don’t ask. When you take a guest into your home, you don’t ask to see legal documentation first.”

This notion was reflected by the Rev. Dr. Mark Mast of the Reformed Church of New Paltz. The Reformed Church does not provide sanctuary services for immigrants, but it has provided similar services in the past.

“Accepting the stranger is a big part of Christian faith,” Mast said. “In the past we have housed a couple of refugees from the LGBTQIA+ community who were asylum seekers. But that’s a little different of a situation from the undocumented workers.”

Conversations about churches becoming sanctuaries for immigrants have begun in Ulster County following the recent detainment and anticipated deportation of 37-year-old New Paltz resident Joel Guerrero. The Rev. Salvatore Cordaro of St. Joseph’s Church in New Paltz believes that Guerrero’s case is unique, and that while other areas in Ulster County may require sanctuary churches, New Paltz does not. 

“The Joel Guerrero case is a different animal altogether,” he said. “Here there’s no real need for a sanctuary church. It’s just the demographics really. There’s not a large Hispanic population in this town, there’s some obviously, but it’s not large.”

According to census data collected in 2010, 11 percent of New Paltz’s population is Hispanic or Latino.

The anonymous pastor spoke about how a call has already been received from an immigrant seeking sanctuary, and that the church hopes to get the word out to its Hispanic and Latino community.

“We can provide all different kinds of sanctuary,” the pastor said. “But the first sanctuary is in our own hearts.”