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On her office walls, she has posted three panels of political buttons, including a blue-and-yellow one proclaiming, “Jesus was a low-wage worker.”

“At this moment in history, you cannot be involved with workers without being involved in immigrant rights,” she said.

She started IWJ in 1996, using her Bread-for-the-World organizing know-how plus $5,000 from an inheritance. Her office was her North Chicago bedroom. Her twins were then 16 months old, and her husband, Stephen Coates, was attending Yale Divinity School.

Twelve years later, she runs a nonprofit with a $2 million budget that pays her a $60,000 annual salary and has 20 staff members. A 2006 list of top donors that contribute more than $100,000 include these foundations: Ford, Marguerite Casey, Nathan Cummings, Rockefeller and Annie E. Casey.

She has a board made up of Buddhists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists and Jews. Muslims have served in the past but not evangelical Protestants. On attracting them to the board, “We’re working on that,” she said.

For now, the sanctuary movement is an initiative of the religious left. Evangelical pollster George Barna calls immigration a “nonissue” among conservatives.

“American evangelicals tend to be focused on America and the preaching in most churches is U.S.-centric,” he said in an interview. “They send money overseas, but they’re immersed in a culture war here and that takes up most of their energies.”

A major part of the organizers’ strategy was a retooling of the concept of sanctuary from being an escape hatch for illegal immigrants to being a “family-values” issue.

Thus, applicants for sanctuary had to be chosen carefully. Their situation needed to be desperate; hence, a deportation order was necessary. They also needed to have a record of having worked and paid taxes. They had to agree to be a public figure for media interviews. They must not have committed any crimes, and most important, they must have American-born children to make the case that to separate them would destroy a family.

The challenge was to find churches willing to take on the issue. There were four tiers of suggested involvement.

* The first and the most intense was being a host congregation that would allow the immigrant to live on church grounds.

* The second was providing money, support, legal help and volunteers to the host church. Usually there is a group of six or seven churches - with an occasional synagogue - in a cluster.

* The third tier was praying for the church, the immigrant and all involved.

* The fourth was called “discernment,” whereby a congregation prays and discusses what level - if any - they want to have in the movement.

Although sheltering illegal immigrants is a felony, sanctuary organizers said in interviews that they had found a loophole in the law: They inform the local ICE office about an immigrant’s presence, thereby evading any charge of secretly harboring fugitives.

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