Hawaii churches plan out how they'll offer sanctuary to immigrant communities

Hawaii churches plan out how they'll offer sanctuary to immigrant communities

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Oahu church is taking a stand against President Trump's plan to increase the number of deportations.

It's all part of a national movement to provide sanctuaries for immigrants in the United States illegally who are facing arrest.

Members from different religious groups came together recently to discuss how they could support Hawaii's immigrant community.

"It's a traditional role that churches have played for centuries. This is a command to us, it's not an option," said Father David Gierlach, of St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Kalihi.

He said his faith calls on him to take care of those who are vulnerable, and that's why he's talking with members of his congregation and community about declaring the church as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants who are fearful of being deported.

"They would be able to stay here, eat here, sleep here and we would challenge the federal government not to enter sacred ground," said Gierlach.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials say those undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime -- any crime -- are top priority for deportation, and they pledge to handle these cases professionally and humanely.

But Gierlach says if DHS agents come to his church, he'll just ask them to leave. And he's not worried about the consequences.

"It will be done with non-violence. It will be done with compassion. But it will be done firmly with our allegiance to our faith," he said.

Historically, immigration agents have agreed to not enter sensitive locations like schools and churches to make arrests, but whether they'll honor the sanctuary designation remains to be seen.

Immigration attorney Clare Hanusz says there is nothing in the law to protect people who obstruct the arrests from being arrested themselves.

"We've seen in the past in the 1980s, people were federally prosecuted and charged with alien harboring and alien smuggling, so those charges are still on the books," said Hanusz.

At last check, more than 700 congregations across the country are participating in the sanctuary church movement. One of the first cases of an undocumented immigrant seeking refuge at a church is happening in Denver.

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