The Episcopal Church has a long tradition of walking alongside immigrants. As we continue this work, we must understand the legal and technical categories of immigrants that include refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented and documented immigrants.
Immigrants enter the United States to obtain jobs, feed families, reunite with loved ones, find safety, study, and more. Immigration to the U.S. is generally granted for three reasons: employment, family reunification, and humanitarian protection. The U.S. immigration system is highly regulated and subject to numerical limitations and eligibility requirements. It can take decades for someone to enter the U.S. through those limited channels.
An undocumented immigrant is someone living in the United States without documentation or legal status, and may have entered legally or illegally. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. today. In many cases, undocumented immigrants live with or have U.S. citizen family members and the majority have been living in the U.S. for over 10 years.
Currently, there is no established pathway to citizenship for the majority of undocumented people living in the U.S, and many families live in constant fear of separation.
In light of the lack of legislative immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, many people are engaged in advocacy to support undocumented individuals living in their communities and find legislative solutions.
A refugee is a person who flees his or her home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, or membership to a particular social or political group. If refugees are unable to return home or integrate into the country to which they fled, they can be resettled. The UN estimates that at least 1 million of the 22.5 million current refugees are eligible for resettlement.
To be considered for resettlement to the U.S., refugees must first register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees then undergo extensive security and medical screenings lasting 18-24 months that include in-person interviews and biometric data checks with multiple security agencies (such as the FBI, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security). According to the U.S. State Department, refugees who are resettled to the U.S. “are screened more carefully than another traveler.” Once the screening is complete and a refugee is approved for resettlement, refugees are partnered with one of nine U.S. resettlement agencies, including Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), and assigned to a local affiliate to receive welcoming resources and tools to start their new life in safety. Once in the U.S., resettled refugees can work, and are eligible for legal permanent residency (also known as a “green card”) 1 year after arrival and are eligible for citizenship 5 years after that.
An asylum seeker is someone who is already in the United States or is seeking admission at a port of entry and is unwilling or unable to go home due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, or membership to a particular social or political group. Countries have specific responsibilities under international law towards anyone seeking asylum in their territories. Like refugees, a person granted asylum in the U.S. can apply for a green card and, eventually, citizenship.
To find more information and resources to stand with immigrants visit the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations at advocacy.episcopalchurch.org.
Churches have provided sanctuary for as long as there have been churches. The idea exists in other religious traditions as well. Historically, there have been sanctuary cities in some places, entire cities of haven. Places literally outside of the law, for people who appeal to compassion or humanity, because they believe the law deals with their situation unfairly. In the church when we talk about Sanctuary today we mean Sanctuary for immigrants to this country who fear deportation.
What is a sanctuary?
Some Christians understand sanctuary to be a purely personal term. You’ve probably heard the song “Sanctuary.” In that song it is our bodies, hearts, and minds which are sanctuaries for the risen Christ. We ourselves open to transformation which results in bearing witness to the risen Christ to the world.
In the church the Sanctuary is the heart of the church where the community gathers and worship happens. Similarly to the personal understanding, it is a place of safety and transformation and the result is our Christian witness to the world.
A Sanctuary within a city or society is similarly a safe place, and if there is transformation or witness, it is of the community that surrounds the Sanctuary. Sanctuary is difficult. It means that we offer within the walls of the church, or within the actions of members of the church, a witness that challenges the justice of the law of the land and the implementation of that law. That is challenging and risky, personally and institutionally.
This page is to help those of you discerning how to help immigrants and refugees whose status is tenuous. Some people will be undocumented. Some will be worried about a change or challenge to their immigration status.
We are discerning how we can help our communities and our nation to be who we believe we mean to be as a nation, and in that process of bearing witness, we are learning together, becoming transformed.
Here you will find resources to aid in conversation in your congregations about your community’s role in this time. You will find sound legal advice and links. You will find stories of what other communities are doing. We hope you will be inspired. This work is long term, and we all have a role to play. We hope this site can further your discernment, and we welcome your feed back on what we can do to improve this resource.
Resources for Undocumented Immigrants/Sanctuary Seekers
Definitions (pdf) Episcopal Church Office of Governmental Relations
Menu of Hope (pdf) Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc.
Creating a Sanctuary “’Hood” (pdf) New Sanctuary Coalition
Beyond Your Rights (pdf)/Mas Alla De Sus Derechos (pdf) New Sanctuary Coalition
Immigration Resources and Organizations to Know
Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations--Immigration advocacy resources and information on the Episcopal Public Policy Network
Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Episcopal Church’s refugee resettlement ministry
Informed Immigrant, a compilation of resources and tools for immigrant communities
Defend Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
United We Dream
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Models for Immigration Work
East Lansing church creates safe space for immigrants, refugees, Lansing City Pulse, May 26, 2017
Boston houses of worship weigh becoming ‘sanctuaries’, Wicked Local West Roxbury, May 18, 2017
Churches vow to shelter immigrants, San Francisco Gate, May 1, 2017
Third refugee family arrives in Northampton, Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 27, 2017
Mr. Trump, Meet My Family, Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
Trinity has been involved in several recent actions. See this page for details.
Some partners in this work
Within the Episcopal Church
All Saints, Pasadena / immigration reform
Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati / sanctuary
Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis
Episcopal City Mission, Diocese of Massachusetts
Episcopal Migration Ministries
Other organizations involved in this work
African Communities Together
African Services Committee
Arab-American Association of New York
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Brooklyn Movement Center
CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities
Center for Popular Democracy
Community Voices Heard
Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM)
Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees
Interfaith Center of New York
Jews For Racial and Economic Justice
Make The Road NY
New York Communities for Change
New York Immigration Coalition
New York Taxi Workers Alliance
Parent Action Committee
Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
Sauti Yetu Center for African Women & Children
Showing Up for Racial Justice
UNITE-HERE Local 100
Urban Justice Center