The First Congregational Church of Riverside, located on Lemon Street in Downtown Riverside, near the Mission Inn, has stated that it plans to offer protection to undocumented immigrants at risk of being deported.
With Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arresting and deporting around 35 percent more undocumented immigrants since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, this course of action could potentially put the church at odds with the federal government. While there is no law preventing law enforcement from arresting someone inside a place of worship, arresting agents traditionally avoid these actions as they have the potential of causing controversy.
According to Rev. Jane Quandt, the senior minister at First Congregational Church, the church has around 42 immigration lawyers who have offered to work pro bono in order to assist the church in any of their legal needs.
UCR fifth-year liberal studies major Mafalda Gueta offered her thoughts on the current attitude toward immigrants, stating, “I think that it’s really important to remind people (that there is help available) because there is such a hateful, xenophobic rhetoric right now.”
Gueta later added, “Literally one day we’re here and one day we’re not. Literally we’re here just living our lives, going to school, go to the grocery store, your day-to-day things and one situation, one small thing could force you to leave that life.”
ICE Public Affairs Officer Lori Haley told the Highlander, over email, “While criminal aliens and those who pose a threat to public safety will continue to be a focus, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
First Congregational has consulted immigration lawyers in order to see what they can legally do in the event that ICE decides to raid the church, as well as what could potentially happen to them should ICE attempt to arrest someone who is taking refuge in the church.
When asked about what it means for a church to offer sanctuary to immigrants, UCR Assistant Professor of Political Science Loren Collingwood, who co-authored a paper on sanctuary cities, explained, “From a political standpoint, there is a long history of churches sheltering undocumented and other people from potential crises, largely around the Central American diaspora.”
When asked why she decided to make the church a sanctuary, Quandt stated, “I think it’s two things. First of all, it’s what’s going on in our community. We have friends and neighbors who we all know and love, who, all of a sudden, are being deported. We have teachers who are hearing their students are all scared that they’re going to go home and find out that one of their parents is deported … It’s in the DNA of this church to want to (engage with) those (who are being targeted).”
First Congregational is not the only place of worship that has expressed plans to be a sanctuary for those in need of refuge from deportation. Some mosques and synagogues are offering sanctuary in their place of worship or offer programs and workshops that teach immigrants’ rights and how to respond if they are arrested by immigration officers.
First Congregational Church is not currently housing anyone, but, according to Quandt, they are anticipating that they will begin housing people in the church soon.