With federal raids to enforce immigration laws expected to increase in California, one Napa church is stepping up to provide sanctuary if necessary.
Napa Methodist Church is willing to help undocumented individuals and their families with advocacy, accompaniment to hearings and potentially a room in which to sleep.
“When we have a national policy that tears families apart, in my book, that’s committing sin,” Pastor Lee Neish said, referring to the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. “I think we are doing ourselves tremendous harm by ripping families apart, by giving the children a message that there’s no place that’s safe, that allows them to see that the bullying they experience at school is institutionalized by the bullying that they’re experiencing by government.”
“This is a very dark time in our nation, and I think one of the things that a church can do is be tiny point of light,” Neish said.
Across the U.S., there are examples of churches sheltering people who would otherwise face deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a longstanding policy to not enter churches and schools.
The church made the decision to become a “sanctuary church” in the fall, but the decision had been nearly a year in the making.
Neish said that he began thinking about becoming a sanctuary after attending an event on the topic last January. Soon after, a sanctuary committee was formed.
The committee provided the church congregation with a survey asking what their concerns were about becoming a sanctuary church and what their concerns were about not becoming a sanctuary church.
“We had almost 100 percent said that if we don’t become one, we will not be living our faith and our belief and values,” said Dottie Lee, sanctuary committee member. “That was profound.”
“Of course there was some concern and, in some cases, fear about doing something that might be perceived as ‘against the government,’ … but I think everybody pretty much is settled with it,” Neish said.
Congregation members had expressed wanting to help Napa’s immigrant and undocumented communities, but didn’t know what they could do.
“It’s our job to help them know what to do,” Lee said.
What will volunteers be doing? Educating the community, writing letters to politicians, accompanying people to court, doing their grocery shopping, documenting immigration arrests, and helping families who are left behind after a key family member, possibly the main breadwinner, is picked up by ICE.
Recipients of the help will be referred to the church by Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center.
“There hasn’t been a need in Napa for a physical shelter,” Lee said. But if a need arises, the church will provide. Two rooms in the church have been identified as possible shelter space.
There is a bathroom attached to the rooms as well as access to showers and a kitchen. If someone were to live on the property, the church would need to provide some bedroom furniture.
“When Puertas Abiertas sends us a person or a family … we don’t ask anything. We trust them because we don’t want to know about their immigration status,” Neish said. “All we want to do is know that we’re sheltering somebody who needs temporary shelter.”
One room is currently being used for bell choir rehearsal, and the other is being used as a sitting room.
The church has also created a special church fund to be used for sanctuary work and is a member of the North Bay Rapid Response Network, a network of teams assembled to respond to ICE raids.