By Barbie Fischer
Over the last month Philadelphia has been abuzz with the news that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter planned to reverse the city’s “sanctuary order” that has been in place since April 2014. The sanctuary order protects Philadelphia residents from deportation by preventing the police from collaborating and sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. This news impacts the Conference’s city-based congregations, particularly those with significant numbers of recent immigrants including Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Indonesian Light Church, Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC).
Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center and Conference LEADership Minister, stated that the reversal of this order “affects the safety of our congregation and community.”
As a largely immigrant congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center became a member of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia more than five years ago. The New Sanctuary Movement is a faith-based immigrant rights organization whose mission is to “build community across faith, ethnicity, and class in [their] work to end injustices against immigrants regardless of status, express radical welcome for all, and ensure that values of dignity, justice, and hospitality are lived out in practice and upheld in policy.”
Pastor Aldo said, “The New Sanctuary Movement is answering and helping with the needs of PPC in terms of immigration matters.”
On December 11, when Mayor Nutter was to sign the reversal of the sanctuary order, New Sanctuary Movement called on faith leaders to join an action at City Hall to show the disagreement with the reversal of the sanctuary order which organizers of the action said puts families at risk of being torn apart and the language used by the Mayor’s administration about the reversal has perpetuated Islamaphobia that is currently widespread in the country.
Pastor Aldo, along with others from PPC, Fred Kauffman, interim pastor at Methacton congregation and Amy Yoder McLaughlin, pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church, with many others from Philadelphia and the surrounding area, immigrants and non-immigrants, documented and undocumented, answered the call.
Bam Tribuwono, a member of PPC and a photojournalist, was one of those who answered the call to action on December 11th. He said, “As an immigrant and Christian, I have been in situations where I’ve faced the possibilities of being deported. The immigration system is so broken. For me it’s pretty simple, let’s get back to what Jesus said in Ephesians 2:19-22. Jesus clearly said that we are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens and members of the household of God. We are all family and we have to protect each other. To give sanctuary for those who need protection.”
The action included speakers at a rally in front of City Hall, along with a time of prayer. A few New Sanctuary Movement leaders went into City Hall and requested to speak with Mayor Nutter. At that time, others in the movement blocked the entrances to the building to raise awareness about the possibility of Mayor Nutter signing the reversal of the sanctuary order.
“I’ve been attending a few New Sanctuary Movement rallies,” said Pastor Aldo, “but at this one the police were very harsh and I had never seen this before, how the police pulled on the protestors.”
When asked about his reasons for attending the action, Pastor Aldo said, “As a Christian this is the way that we show our care about foreigners and strangers. From Matthew 25, we are told to welcome strangers and foreigners; maybe we are entertaining angels or Jesus. As a Mennonite and a Christian we need to act the words of God — not just read them and meditate on them. That is why it is important for Christians to support this kind of movement, standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
Fred Kauffman, stated the he had heard of the action being planned at City Hall but had not planned on going until the night before at a Kingdom Builders Network Bible study when he learned of Pastor Aldo’s involvement with the organization coordinating the action. He said, “At that point I knew that I had to go, because this was an important action to Pastor Aldo and the people in his congregation. At the action I was pleased to see Pastor Amy Yoder-McGlaughlin as well as Pastor Aldo and other friends that I knew. I prayed for the protesters risking arrest, ‘May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’”
Mayor Nutter did not sign the reversal on December 11th, but did do so three days later. Without the sanctuary order, Pastor Aldo says, “we live in fear and live under the radar. We hide. I need to comfort and protect my congregation and make sure they are ok. How can I tell them to be a blessing if they live in fear and hide themselves?”
With a new year, came new hope, and a new mayor. Mayor Jim Kenney took office on Monday, January 4th and one of his first actions as mayor was to reinstate the sanctuary order. Many rejoiced over this news.
Pastor Aldo has said it is important that those among us who are immigrants feel welcome and supported. This can be done through prayer, fellowship and supporting the efforts of people like the those in the New Sanctuary Movement.
A current campaign of the New Sanctuary Movement that could use support is their efforts to have driver licenses accessible to undocumented people in Pennsylvania. Eleven states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico currently offer driver licenses to those who are undocumented. Not having access to a driver’s license means that a person undocumented risks deportation anytime they drive — whether to go to work, school, to access health care, or to buy groceries.
To learn more about New Sanctuary Movement visit: http://www.sanctuaryphiladelphia.org/. To visit PPC, Indonesian Light Church, Centro de Alabanza or Nations Worship Center, visit the conference directory here for service times and locations; all are willing to translate their services into English as needed.