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Sanctuary Rising

Sanctuary Rising

Published: October 2, 2017

Community members in Denver stand with Ingrid Encalada Latorre (fifth from left), who spent several months in sanctuary as she fought her immigration case. 

Photo: AFSC / Gabriela Flora

Communities across the country are working to create Sanctuary Everywhere—by speaking out against bigotry, sheltering their neighbors from deportation, and advocating for policies to protect all people.

How do you successfully counter a growing wave of hate and fear driving policies that deny our civil and human rights? 

In January, as the Trump administration began, hate-fueled threats swelled, and policies like the infamous Muslim ban were introduced, we tested and found some effective means of community resistance. And we combined them into our new Sanctuary Everywhere initiative

Simply put, Sanctuary Everywhere is the idea that everyday people can work together to keep each other safe. Sanctuary can mean taking someone into a congregation to protect them from deportation, but more broadly, it’s about the community coming together to protect targeted communities from state violence—including immigrants, people of color, targeted religious groups, or LGBTQ folks. 

Whether immigrant families are facing separation due to deportation, whether Black families are facing separation due to the system of mass incarceration, or whether Muslim families are facing separation due to a Muslim ban, we are called to take care of each other. Sanctuary Everywhere recognizes that each of us actually has the power to help create safe, welcoming spaces in the places where we learn, work, worship, and live. 

We cannot wait for courts or a new election to make significant change. We can stand together, effectively, right now. Efforts by AFSC staff, partners, and volunteers have included: 

Here, we showcase a few examples of how communities are succeeding in creating Sanctuary Everywhere.



Congregations step up to keep families together 

By Jennifer Piper

Araceli Velaquez (pictured with her husband and children) is now living in sanctuary in Denver, hosted by Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah. Photo: Ric Urrutia 

Faith communities have a long history of providing sanctuary to those in need. Today, as the U.S. government steps up its assault on immigrants’ human and civil rights, congregations across the country are protecting people threatened by deportation, with support from the AFSC community. 

Entering sanctuary is often a difficult decision for immigrants like Araceli in Denver; Emma in Albuquerque; and Juana in Greensboro, North Carolina, who all took this courageous step this year. It is an enormous sacrifice of freedom, often made in hopes of helping to bring about systemic changes that can help others facing similar dilemmas. 

The congregations that made the decision to accompany these individuals—Quaker meetings; a synagogue; and Episcopal, Unitarian, and Methodist churches—also made a tremendous commitment that required them to weigh practical and legal concerns. They had to consider how the media and public would respond and whether they had the resources to offer sanctuary—adequate facilities; enough volunteers to help with groceries, errands, and child care; and the ability to fundraise to help cover legal services and other needs. They also had to ensure that their congregants were ready to offer the moral and spiritual support a person would need to live in sanctuary for months or even years. 

These sanctuary congregations also had to learn how to be effective allies. Jeanette Vizguerra, a longtime immigrant rights activist who was in sanctuary in Denver earlier this year, tells us: “What we are looking for as immigrants, as people who are claiming this space, is for all of you to walk beside us in this moral and prophetic act that we’re taking and to follow our lead as we are making this systemic challenge to the immigration policies that we have.” 

When individuals have the support of a congregation behind them, the results can be powerful: 

  • In February, Jeanette entered sanctuary in the First Unitarian Society of Denver. Her story was covered by major news outlets, including CNN and the Washington Post, and she was honored as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2017. After spending 86 days in sanctuary, she was granted a two-year stay of deportation, just in time to celebrate Mother’s Day with her four children. d
  • Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a mother of two young boys, spent over five months in sanctuary at Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver. In May, she was granted a temporary stay of deportation, giving her a few months to pursue the next steps in her case.
  • Arturo Hernandez Garcia, a father of two citizen children, had spent nine months in sanctuary in Denver in 2014 and 2015. He had received a letter in 2015 informing him he was no longer a priority for deportation, but in April of this year, he was detained by ICE at his workplace. Thanks to advocacy by his family, AFSC the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, and Denver community members, Arturo was granted a two-year stay of deportation. 

Beyond these individual victories, these sanctuary congregations—and the other congregations that support them—help to shine a bright light on the injustice of our immigration system. And their activism will continue to inspire more congregations and community members to step up, let their immigrant neighbors know they are not alone in their struggles, and work alongside them for a world that respects the human dignity of all people. 

Jennifer Piper is AFSC’s interfaith organizing director in Colorado.



Gabriel Camacho (standing) facilitates a Communities Against Islamophobia workshop in Philadelphia. Photo: James Wasserman

Latinx communities stand in solidarity with Muslim neighbors

By Gabriel Camacho

AFSC’s Communities Against Islamophobia (CAI) project helps those within Muslim communities and their allies understand Is-lamophobia and develop strategies to stop it. Here in Massachusetts, our CAI program has been working closely with members of the Latinx community, nearly 100 of whom have taken part in our Spanish-language workshops. Both groups have historically been targeted by discriminatory policies and now face more aggressive enforcement policies under the Trump administration. And there’s a growing recognition of the intersections in these struggles for justice—and the need to support each other in our work. 

Participants in our workshops talk about racism and stereotypes and compare their respective histories, including colonialism and policies that target Arab/Muslim and Latinx people. We ask basic questions like: What do you know of the Muslim com-munity? Do you know your Muslim neighbors? How do you interact? What are some stereotypes of Muslims, and how do they compare with stereotypes of Latinos, African Americans, and immigrants in general? Why did you leave Central America? Why do people leave Syria? 

That’s when we start having rich discussions. Although our histories are very separate, the roots are the same. Attendees come to recognize that U.S. policies that target people of different ethnicities aim to divide us, to stop us from creating unity and standing against the abuses of imperialism and capitalism. 

After the conversations, we’ve seen meaningful connections stick. Latinx community members show up at anti-Muslim rallies and stand with Muslims against hate. A statewide campaign to pass a bill known as the Safe Communities Act also has widespread support. Among other things the bill would bar local police from collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and prohibit any state database to be used for a federal registry on Muslims. 

I’ve found that people who attend our CAI workshops often want to take on more. Comments range from “I think my church would benefit from this workshop—I’ll let them know about it” to “There’s a lot of tension between Muslims and Latinos at my workplace—could you do one there?”

Gabriel Camacho is AFSC’s immigration programs coordinator in Cambridge, Mass. and works with AFSC’s Communities Against Islamophobia project.



A community wins with a measure to reduce racial profiling by police

By Martha Yager

Providence City Hall in Rhode Island. Photo: Martha Yager/AFSC

In June, the city of Providence, Rhode Island passed the Community Safety Act, considered one of the most progressive ordinances on policing in the country. Its passage marked the culmination of a five-year campaign by a coalition of community organizations, including AFSC. 

The ordinance takes on a range of issues in policing, from stop-and-frisk practices to protections for people without proper documents who are pulled over by police. 

In the early 2000s, AFSC was part of a statewide effort to enact legislation addressing racial profiling and other issues in policing. But police resisted our efforts, reluctant to accept civilian oversight or acknowledge that racism might influence their policies and practices.

In 2013, frustrated by both the process and the results, our coalition members decided to campaign for a city ordinance instead. Over the next year, we met with young people, parents, grandparents, and others living in heavily policed neighborhoods to learn more about how they experience the police. We asked them what they wanted in an ordinance and researched best practices across the country on racial profiling; police encounters with queer, transgender, or gender-nonconforming individuals; protections for undocumented immigrants; and the so-called “gang database” maintained by police. 

In 2014, our group drafted an ordinance and began the long process of building political and public support. We met with city councilors, the public safety commissioner, and chief of police. When we couldn’t get the mayor’s attention, we showed up at events he was attending until he agreed to work with us. 

And we collaborated with other groups led by people who feel police presence in their lives every day. Together we knocked on doors in wards where councilors were undecided, phone banked, and showed up at public events. Eventually, local media began covering our efforts. 

What started small grew into a big citywide movement backed by a broad spectrum of individuals, community groups, artists, and businesses, with youth of color in the lead. The election of President Trump only added more urgency to our campaign. 

Our broad coalition overcame many objections and challenges, and in June, a comprehensive ordinance passed. It moved our city closer to improving police interactions with community members and holding law enforcement accountable to the public. 

The Community Safety Act:

  1. Prohibits police from using race, ethnicity, color, national origin, gender, gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, and other characteristics as a reason to suspect someone of a crime.
  2. Prohibits police from holding people solely under ICE detainers and requires public notice of police collaboration with other agencies, including ICE.
  3. Requires police to tell drivers why they were stopped before asking for any documents and mandates that police only ask for a driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance in most cases.
  4. Requires police to inform individuals of their right to refuse consent to a search. Searches must be performed by an officer of the same gender identity as the individual being searched, and the police department will develop public policies for how officers conduct searches of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.
  5. Prohibits police from using race, association, and other factors to add someone to the gang database. Individuals must also be able to find out whether they are in the database and how to appeal their inclusion.
  6. Requires police to establish policies regarding the use of dashboard and body cameras and any other devices.
  7. Prohibits police from interfering with members of the public who are recording police activity.

The ordinance goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Our next task is to ensure that the city of Providence fulfills the expectations of community members who contributed to this hard-won campaign over the past five years. 

To get the full text of the resolution—and learn how cities like Providence are creating safer, more welcoming communities for all—visit

Martha Yager served as AFSC program coordinator in Southeast New England.