Local church offers sanctuary to those facing deportation

Sanctuary flags at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor
‘Sanctuary flags’ erected at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A Berkeley church on Wednesday announced it would provide sanctuary to local residents seeking refuge from deportation, and it unveiled a newly created apartment designed for that purpose.

University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley (ULC), at 2425 College Ave. (at Haste), held a press conference and ritual blessing to launch the initiative, which is supported by more than a dozen local congregations and was orchestrated in partnership with the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

The City of Berkeley also supports the move. Last month it passed a resolution of support for sanctuary to refugees and migrants. It was put forward by Councilman Kriss Worthington, who attended Wednesday’s event.

“Today is a day of victory for compassion and a day of victory for courage. Most importantly, it is a victory for common sense,” Worthington said, addressing the roughly 100-strong group that gathered for the announcement. It included, along with members of the press, several congregational leaders from around the Bay Area. Worthington condemned what he said was the “unprecedented level” of raids on migrants. “It’s a deportation dragnet that is scooping up and deporting people unceremoniously, and often illegally,” he said. “Berkeley is saying: ‘enough is enough.'”


Reverend Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition of Human Rights at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition of Human Rights (left) speaking at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

ULC said it is making the new apartment, which was created by converting an office in its building, available to Bay Area residents seeing refuge from deportation back to violence and persecution in Central America. It is particularly concerned about those for whom deportation would mean becoming separated from their families.

Two people gave testimony at the event: one was Jeremias Martinez Rodriguez, an unaccompanied minor who fled violence in Honduras. The other was Julissa Oliva whose husband is being held in immigration detention.

In a statement released before the announcement, Pastor Jeff Johnson of ULC spoke of the motivation for the initiative, making a veiled reference to the threat posed by presumptive Presidential candidate Donald Trump. “We live in perilous times — when national leaders advocate openly about building wall s and barring whole populations from entry into the U.S.,” he said. “It is a time of increased xenophobia, where refugees are derided, scapegoated, and blamed. For communities of faith, action in the present moment is imperative.”

The apartment designed for a deportation refugee at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor
The apartment designed for a deportation refugee at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“We await the call from someone in the final steps of deportation and who needs relief,” said Johnson Wednesday before leading the gathering in a blessing around the chapel’s font.

Pastor Max Lynn of nearby St. John’s Presbyterian Church also spoke at the event — stressing that everyone had a right to safety and liberty — as did Rev. Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition of Human Rights, who called on President Obama to take meaningful action on immigration.


Pastor Johnson then led the group outside to the front of the church where “ribbons of sanctuary” were strung across the entrance.

Other congregations offer sanctuary, but no local church has actually hosted someone in many years, according to Robyn Gee, a spokeswoman for University Lutheran Chapel, which also offered practical sanctuary in the 1980s.

Berkeley’s resolution commits the city to supporting any community organizations that choose to provide sanctuary for undocumented migrants and refugees. It also resolves that no city employee engage in or assist “with arrests for alleged violation of immigration laws by the refugees in sanctuary or by those offering sanctuary, or by refusing established public services to the established sanctuaries.”

Press conference/interfaith sanctuary pledge at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Participants look on at the sanctuary pledge at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley on July 13, 2016. Photo: Tracey Taylor

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