Daily Hampshire Gazette  –  December 12, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Leaders of local houses of worship kept an open mind Sunday about whether they would offer any sort of sanctuary to undocumented immigrants during a Donald Trump presidency.

President-elect Trump pledged during the campaign to remove millions of people who were in the country illegally.

The Associated Press reported this weekend that hundreds of churches nationwide would offer some type of sanctuary to undocumented immigrants if need be. Sanctuary, the outlet reported, could mean anything from spiritual and legal counseling to providing housing and financial assistance.

At First Churches of Northampton, 129 Main St., the Rev. Todd Weir said his congregation would look at ways to provide legal and housing assistance to undocumented immigrants, qualifying that he would have to first discuss any moves with the wider congregation.

“Frankly, we’re all kind of stunned we’re at this place,” Weir said of a possible immigration crackdown. “The church is a place where people should feel safe and protected. We have to figure out how to make that real for people.”
He said Northampton is already considered a “sanctuary city,” meaning local police are not to coordinate with federal agents in deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Weir said any shift in federal policy toward how federal agents work with sanctuary cities “would be infringing on what this local community has said is important to us.”

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the AP the agency follows a 2011 policy that generally discourages agents from entering “sensitive” locations such as places of worship, hospitals and schools to take people into custody.

Down the street from First Churches, the Rev. Deb Moore, at Edwards Church of Northampton, 297 Main St., was greeting churchgoers after service Sunday.

She said leaders are receptive to the idea, but that the wider congregation would have to weigh in on whether to offer such “sanctuary” services.

“Where we would do that we would have to have a conversation with the wider church,” she said. “It’s not something we could just do.”

Rabbi Justin David, at Northampton’s Congregation B’nai Israel, 253 Prospect St., said he and the synagogue community will discuss how best to serve undocumented immigrants in the future.

“I know that in the Jewish world there are a number of synagogues who are exploring what it means to be a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants,” he said. “I very much want our community to get on board.”

And at the Haydenville Congregational Church in Haydenville, the Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian said offering legal and housing support are all something that can be discussed with the wider congregation.

“We are never going to ask someone who walks through the door their legal status,” she said. “We do not consider any person illegal.

“There is some work ahead for us to discern what steps we will take and how we will go forward,” Ayvazian said.

Representatives with the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which has jurisdiction over Valley-area Catholic churches, could not be reached Sunday.

This isn’t the first time in recent memory houses of worship have played a role in aiding those from foreign lands. As Northampton prepares to welcome 51 refugees from places such as Syria, Iraq, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, officials have called on faith leaders to offer aid.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.