- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leaders of a church-based sanctuary movement have vowed to offer refuge within their houses of worship to immigrants facing deportation as the Obama administration is planning a crackdown on Central American families who entered the country illegally.

The announcement came two days after it was reported that the Obama administration is considering a series of raids, perhaps as early as January, to remove hundreds of illegal immigrants who have defied deportation orders.

Leaders of the multidenominational Sanctuary Movement, which has already sheltered 10 immigrants from deportation over the past 18 months, alluded to the Gospel accounts of Mary and Joseph seeking refuge before the birth of Jesus.

“As pastors, we know that each and every family is a holy family,” said the Rev. Alison Harrington, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, Reuters reported. “We open our doors to today’s Josephs and Marys. … The gift we have to offer on Christmas Day is the gift of sanctuary.”

Ms. Harrington said the Sanctuary Movement encompasses about 50 congregations in a dozen U.S. cities.

The movement made headlines in January when a church in Philadelphia provided refuge to a Honduran woman whose two children were born in the U.S. She later won a two-year reprieve from deportation.

The Rev. Noel Anderson, a coordinator for the affiliated Church World Service, said the number of congregations supporting the sanctuary network is around 300 in more than 20 states, according to Reuters.

The number of Central American immigrants crossing the border has surged in recent weeks.

Immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua have been flooding into the U.S. via Mexico by the thousands since 2014, many of them children and families fleeing poverty and gang violence.

The planned raids, which were first reported in The Washington Post last week, quickly drew fire, especially for their Christmas-week timing, from immigration advocacy groups and all three principal Democratic presidential candidates.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen declined to comment to the AP on the details of the Post report.

However, in a statement, she said the administration has long said it would focus deportation efforts on, among others, people who have been ordered removed from the country since January 2014.

“As Secretary Johnson has consistently said, our border is not open to illegal immigration, and if individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief, and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our laws and our values,” she said.

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