U.S. churches may be attracting fewer people in the pews, but their sanctuary business is blessed with illegal aliens moving into their basements.
A group of Central American migrants has resided for nearly three years inside two Austin, Texas, churches. In North Carolina, a Guatemalan national in the U.S. illegally since 1994 just marked her second year ensconced at a “sanctuary” church. And other churches from Boston to Baltimore are sheltering border jumpers and visa overstays.
The case of Juana Tobar Ortega, the aforementioned Guatemalan, illustrates how religious groups furnish room, board and a smorgasbord of services to a growing flock of illegal aliens in open defiance of U.S. immigration laws.
Before holing up at Greensboro’s St. Barnabas Church, the 46-year-old Ortega had never set foot in the building. Since she first began hiding from immigration officials in the church basement, Ortega has “received extensive access to the legal system [though she]has no lawful basis to remain in the country,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said. Three immigration attorneys have provided more than $20,000 in legal services on her behalf.
“We need to violate the law in order to do the right thing,” Ortega says.
Clearly, Ortega has violated U.S. immigration law, though she’s a little hazy on what she means by doing “the right thing.” A key tenet of civil disobedience is accepting the consequences of violating the law in order to draw attention to the alleged immorality undergirding it. But Ortega’s just an illegal alien who got caught and doesn’t like the fact that her removal would be both lawful and completely moral.
Though Texas and North Carolina outlaw so-called sanctuary cities, churches enjoy a de facto dispensation to offer extended-stay lodging to migrants. The wayfaring aliens are shielded by an ICE policy that discourages federal agents from making arrests inside “sensitive” locations, which include churches, hospitals and schools, except in exigent circumstances.
Because American religious institutions are subject only to very limited government regulation, U.S. law enforcement agencies are loathe to force entry into places of worship (even though no law prohibits them from doing so when a criminal is hiding in a church).
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, believes churches have an obligation to protect illegal aliens.
“Until we accomplish lasting, comprehensive immigration reform, churches have every right to provide a safe haven for hard-working, God-fearing individuals and families not involved in nefarious activities, regardless of immigration status,” Rodriguez says.
Nice try, reverend. As FAIR has noted, harboring illegal aliens is a federal crime – and there are no exceptions for the clergy.
As for separation of church and state concerns, they only seem to bother modern religious institutions when the Constitution interferes with their social justice agenda. Local governments across the country allocate funds for church-based groups that give shelter and legal services to illegal aliens, even in states with anti-sanctuary laws. Yet none of these institutions refuse such funds on separation of church and state grounds.
Deep in the heart of Texas, the city of San Antonio engages in such collusion by annually funneling tax dollars to faith-based groups that aid and shelter illegal aliens.
Last year, the state sued the city and its police chief for releasing a dozen illegal aliens ensnared in a human smuggling operation. Holding ICE agents at bay, the chief handed the migrants over to Catholic Charities. They haven’t been seen since.