Philadelphia churches offer sanctuary for immigrants

by Tim Huber, for Mennonite World Review (reposted by permission)

Two Mennonite churches in Philadelphia have joined a sanctuary movement aiming to support people fearing deportation from the United States.

The congregations are members of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an organization participating in a nationwide act of civil disobedience responding to inaction on immigration reform. President Obama promised to act on immigration by the end of summer, but has delayed doing so until after November elections.

Philadelphia Praise Center Pastor Aldo Siahaan said his congregation hasn’t received word yet about hosting specific undocumented immigrants, but it is ready.

The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia gathered with congregational leaders to hold a press conference on September 25. The press conference was held at Philadelphia Praise Center, one of several congregations participating.
The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia held a press conference announcing the new initiative on September 25. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

“At Philadelphia Praise Center most of the people are immigrants,” he said. “This is kind of an issue that we deal with every month, even weekly. We know the pain and we know how it feels, so we open our space.”

The congregation has significant numbers of Indonesian, Hispanic and Burmese ethnic groups. Membership at PPC includes many undocumented people.

The church has two Sunday school classrooms that can be used to house families, and the sanctuary could also be employed.

Siahaan said law enforcement officials have not visited the church since its involvement was announced in a September 25 New Sanctuary Movement press conference at the church. In April, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an executive order significantly limiting collaboration between local police and federal immigration authorities.

But word has gotten around.

“Last week, one radio station called me and put me on the air,” Siahaan said. “The announcer tried to be my opposition, and he really opposed the idea of the church opening to the ‘illegal people crossing the border.’ That’s what he was trying to say.

Aldo Siahaan, pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, being interviewed at the press conference.
Aldo Siahaan, pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, being interviewed at the press conference.

“I gave my reasons. It was an opportunity to speak to the people who disagree with us.”

Other support

Germantown Mennonite Church became an affiliate member of New Sanctuary Movement after a congregational vote over the summer. Though not planning to host undocumented people at the moment, it is providing support for churches that are.

Russ Mast and Betsy Morgan have attended organization meetings on the congregation’s behalf, and have accompanied families to deportation meetings as both witnesses and emotional supporters.

Germantown’s facilities are also used by a Jewish community group, Tikkun Olam Chavurah, for high holiday services. Like Philadelphia Praise Center, the group has signed on to host undocumented people. However, it is unclear where the Jewish group would provide sanctuary — be it at Germantown, a member’s home or a rented location.

“That hasn’t been something that has been decided yet,” said Germantown facilities administrator Michelle Bruhn.

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