[Vision2020] Sanctuaries have a sacred history

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Sat Sep 30 08:18:58 PDT 2017

Courtesy of today's (September 30, 2017) Spokesman-Review.

Guest Opinion: Nick Gier: Sanctuaries have a sacred history
By Nick Gier
For The Spokesman-Review

The people of the ancient Middle East practiced radical hospitality, and the Israelites were no exception: “When a stranger sojourns in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

The medieval church offered asylum to all those who sought it, as long as criminals confessed their sins. They were given 40 days to decide whether to stand trial or go into permanent exile. Today churches are bringing back this Judeo-Christian tradition, and about 800 of them are now offering refuge to those who need protection.

This year immigration rights activist Jeanette Vizguerra was honored by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people. She has lived and worked in the U.S. for 20 years, but she is undocumented. In February, facing deportation, she was offered sanctuary in Denver’s First Unitarian Church.

On May 5, with the aid of Colorado’s three Democratic representatives, Vizguerra was given a two-year “stay of removal,” and she has now been reunited with her children and grandchildren. These Democrats were also instrumental in the release of Arturo Hernandez, who had lived in the same church for nine months.

Immigration authorities have a legal right to enter any building to arrest people, but they have avoided churches. Sacred sanctuary principles obviously still have their force.

The contemporary sanctuary movement is different from the medieval requirement of confession of sins and a deadline for a trial. The latter point is moot because, as far as I know, these churches do not harbor felons.

Nevertheless, pastors who refuse to hand over the undocumented are committing acts of civil disobedience. They believe that a greater harm is done if immigrant families are broken up because of deportation.

These Christians believe that such an exile would violate the biblical injunction to love and comfort the foreigner. Quite apart from religious beliefs, I agree with Charles Dickens’ Mr. Bumble, who said that sometimes “the law is an ass.”

Secular authorities in the 600-plus sanctuary cities have at least two arguments for noncompliance. First, immigration enforcement is a federal prerogative, while local police are charged with enforcing their own laws. Second, local police contend that if they do a general dragnet of the undocumented, they will lose important sources of intelligence that allow them to arrest immigrant felons in their midst.

The charge that sanctuary cities have higher crime rates is just another example of the Trump administration’s fake news. The fact is, according to University of California, San Diego professor Tom K. Wong, “crime is significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties.”

On April 25, Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities was blocked. Federal Judge William Orrick ruled that “only Congress can place such conditions on spending.”

On Aug. 30, a district judge ruled that a Texas law imposing fines on local authorities who refuse to cooperate with immigration agents may well be unconstitutional. He wrote that the plaintiffs had provided “overwhelming evidence that cooperating with immigration officials will erode public trust and make many communities less safe.”

On Aug. 25, the Washington state Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision against Respect Washington, an anti-immigration organization that wanted to remove a prohibition that Spokane police may not ask about citizenship status. The court ruled that the ballot measure “illegally sought to change an administrative policy, not a law.”

In conclusion, it is important to note that the Declaration of Independence follows Leviticus in making no difference between the “native” and the “non-native.” Its central principle is a philosophical statement about human nature in general: namely, that all human beings regardless of origin have an “inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Nick Gier, of Moscow, taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years.


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares" (the most fun you can have with your pants on)
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho
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