Heaven Help Us! Churches and Illegal Aliens

A local news station is reporting that four churches in the Syracuse, N.Y., area have joined together to provide “sanctuary” to illegal aliens. The Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition says that it “has formed to stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.”

According to Pastor Fred Daley, of All Saints Roman Catholic Church, “A person who would be fleeing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] would be able to live in sanctuary.” Pastor Daley also asserted that, “By tradition the government has never crossed the line into church grounds to break sanctuary.”

This is only the latest instance of a nationwide trend in which religious institutions harbor illegal aliens and interfere with efforts by Department of Homeland Security officials to enforce our nation’s immigration laws.

Of course, Pastor Daley should probably stick to theology and leave the law to those with the appropriate credentials. Here’s what he got wrong:

  • The traditional English notion of sanctuary that is often cited by churches as the basis for their defiance of immigration law was banned by the English parliament in 1624.
  • At the birth of the United States, religious sanctuary had been illegal in Britain for about 150 years and was never part of American law.
  • Pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 1324 harboring and transporting illegal aliens is a federal crime. Like the rest of U.S. penal law, it provides no exceptions for clergy.
  • Church officials convicted of concealing, harboring, shielding from detection or transporting illegal aliens could face prison time and fines.
  • Federal law enforcement agencies are under no obligation to refrain from enforcement activities in churches.

Modern religious institutions also tend to ignore the fact that the Medieval and Renaissance church was an independent sovereign that operated its own system of courts. Its properties, like modern embassies, were considered independent territory, free from royal regulation.

But here in the United States, where separation of church and state is enshrined in the First Amendment, religious institutions can make no such claim. And churches harboring illegal aliens are just private organizations interfering with the enforcement of federal law.

Rather than creating unnecessary conflict between religious leaders and immigration authorities, America’s churches should abandon the sanctuary illusion once and for all.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    I hope something finally gets done about Syracuse being a Sanctuary City.If we hid illegals from I.C.E, or the Border Patrol,We would be in jail. Syracuse is a place for Rad Islam to hide and plan an attack in N.Y.C or elsewhere. Cuomo,Schumer,Gillibrand and the Mayor of Syr. should be charged for breaking Federal Law.Syracuse Mayor S.Miner proudly breaks Fed Law on youtube. Check it out

  2. avatar
    Toby Robertson on

    I accidentally clicked on this site at some point, and now I keep getting notifications of your posts. How do I stop these? I’m using an iMac.