May 26 2017 08:00 AM

East Lansing church creates safe space for immigrants, refugees

FRIDAY, May 26 — While the City of Lansing has waffled on whether or not to label itself a sanctuary city, one local faith community is stepping up and declaring itself a sanctuary. And it’s more than a label — the congregation is creating a living space for individuals who are afraid of deportation.

A group of local faith leaders and congregants gathered at the All Saints Episcopal church in East Lansing yesterday to announce that the church will serve as a sanctuary for those in fear of being deported. The church joins nine other faith communities in Michigan and hundreds across the nation in declaring themselves a sanctuary for immigrants and refugees.

“The people of All Saints Episcopal have spoken with a full, clear conscience and have chosen to serve the needs of their neighbors,” said Pastor Kit Carson of All Saints Episcopal. “The current administration has chosen to ignore the need to fix immigration policy and instead uses it as a weapon to separate families. But as Christians, we are charged with giving comfort to the afflicted and shelter to the suffering.”

Carson was joined by Father Fred Thelen of Cristo Rey Catholic Church and Action of Greater Lansing.

Vick Rauch, a member of the governing body of the church, said he and other members voted unanimously Tuesday night for the church to declare itself a sanctuary.

“We didn’t take this step lightly,” Rauch said.

Carson is working with Action of Greater Lansing and the ACLU, and she said they’re taking the summer to prepare the church to be a suitable living space. There is room for one to two people to stay in an area they are preparing within the church. Carson said they are installing a shower and that the sanctuary space is near the kitchen and bathrooms.

Carson said the sanctuary will be available 24/7, but those using the space will enter a three-month agreement where there will be periodical assessments to see if the sanctuary is still needed for those individuals or if other individuals need it more.

“When in sanctuary, you can’t really leave the church, but there is a garden at the center of the church where people can feel fresh air while still technically being in the church,” said Susan Dougherty, member of All Saints Episcopal and Action of Greater Lansing, as she gave a tour of the facility.

Oscar Castaneda of Action of Greater Lansing said if it comes down to it, they won’t hesitate to use their lawyers if immigrants that are under their protection are picked up by ICE while they are traveling to and from their hearings.

Carson said they are hoping other churches will follow suit and declare themselves sanctuaries in this time of need.

The sanctuary movement in the U.S. has expanded exponentially in response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants, building a strong network of both physical sanctuary and support systems to protect families and stand with immigrants facing deportation.

“Our communities came together to offer this protection to immigrant families,” Castaneda said, “Because we have a strong desire to be on the right side of history and to fight for justice, as our faiths teach us to do,”

Subscribe to Our Newsletter