More than 60 different religious congregations have launched the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network, a local initiative to provide support and resources to immigrants at risk of being detained or deported.
The group, based in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area and made up of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith traditions, gathered March 21 at the Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th St. NW to announce the new coalition before marching to the White House to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Among the network’s goals are preserving and expanding Washington, D.C.’s sanctuary city status and providing legal information to immigrants in the DMV area who fear raids from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Sanctuary cities are local municipalities that prohibit local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration agencies in apprehending individuals who have entered the country illegally when they are arrested for unrelated charges.
According to a statement from the Sanctuary DMV website, sanctuary cities should not comply with the Trump administration’s proposed immigration policies.
“They should actively and politically protect its most vulnerable populations, including those who are immigrants, undocumented, indigenous, Black, Muslim, Latino, women and LGBTQ+,” the statement reads.
The District has been a sanctuary city since former Mayor Vincent Gray (D) issued a declaration in 2011. In D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department is limited from cooperating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. MPD officers are also prohibited from ask about people’s immigration status and do not detain people for ICE unless a serious crime is involved, according to Sanctuary DMV.
Still, Sanctuary DMV maintains that sanctuary city status is not enough because of loopholes exempting federal agencies in D.C. from adhering to local law enforcement policies, resulting in both immigrants with and without documentation being deported.
Recent statements from Trump and increased ICE raids in major metropolitan areas including Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., have motivated these religious congregations to offer aid, including physical shelter, free legal counsel and to host Know Your Rights workshops to educate people on how to handle interactions with the ICE.
Asma Hanif, a chaplain at member congregation Muslimat Al Nisaa Shelter, said her domestic violence and refugee ministry provides Muslim women experiencing homelessness or abuse a safe place to live. Hanif has been working on providing shelter to those in need for over three decades.
“I started out with that as a goal in mind,” Hanif said. “When I saw that there were so many individuals whose needs were not being met, that they were silent victims — that society was really not concerned about sheltering them because they had no family, no status, no resources, no nothing. That’s why I don’t get government money and I open up my home to be able to help them.”
In the District alone, ICE reported it had arrested 82 individuals over the course of five days in the DMV area, according to Fusion, a media company owned by Univision.
ICE announced that within the course of last week, it detained at least 367 individuals across the country.
Congressional Democrats last week introduced a bill to prohibit immigration officers from wearing any clothing that could identify them as “police.” The ban on using the term would apply to ICE and U.S. Border Patrol agents to distinguish local police departments from federal agencies in sanctuary cities.
Julia Jarvis, an ordained minister at the United Church of Christ, has participated in Sanctuary DMV’s meetings to help organize.
“I’ve been working with Sanctuary DMV, the organizing vehicle that supports, works with and tries to get a lot of clergy of all different faiths to come together to support and stand up for people who are going to the ICE check-ins and are worried that they are going to be deported in this climate, where people even without criminal backgrounds are being deported,” Jarvis said.
According to Jarvis, Sanctuary DMV currently has seven active cases. Three to four of them have ICE check-in meetings scheduled in May.
Laura Cunningham, pastor and head of staff at Western Presbyterian Church, said joining DMV Sanctuary was not a difficult decision for her congregation.
“It actually was not very controversial,” Cunningham said of the decision. “Once our congregation found out more, they realized it fit very well with our understanding of who we’re called to be as faithful people.”
In addition to working with Lutheran Social Services to help resettle refugees, Temple Sinai has also joined DMV Sanctuary. According to Rabbi Jonathan Roos, the congregation has already held Know Your Rights workshops and provided free legal aid.
Jarvis said people can provide aid to immigrants by getting trained in Know Your Rights programs, writing to Congress, raising money for legal fees, donating supplies to sanctuary communities and providing food and medical support.
“It’d be great if Georgetown and universities got involved,” Jarvis said. “Come to sanctuary meetings, find out when they are going to be and come to vigils to stand with these undocumented people. You don’t have to be ordained, you don’t have to be a lawyer, you don’t have to have any title, but just showing up is very powerful.”
The next DMV Sanctuary approved event will take place April 12 at Gravelly Point Park to protest the low wages of D.C. airport workers.
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