Following the publication of Resolution 17-05, and the dissemination of the standing committee president’s commentary on the subject, questions emerged. We offer these frequently asked questions and responses in hopes of providing further guidance on these topics. These responses are not intended as legal advice.
Does Resolution 17-05 require congregations in the diocese to declare themselves to be Sanctuary Churches?
No, the text of the resolution only suggests that each church “consider becoming Sanctuary Churches.”
What is the purpose of the diocese declaring that it is a Sanctuary Diocese?
The resolution was passed by a majority of convention delegates voting for this public statement that the Episcopal Diocese, consistent with long-standing Christian tradition, is dedicated to the principle that immigrants among us, regardless of their legal status, are entitled to view the Church as a place where they may turn for aid and/or assistance in negotiating the difficulties of being an alien in a foreign land.
What should a congregation do if it wants to consider being a Sanctuary Church?
First, it should consult with an attorney knowledgeable about immigration laws and enforcement of those laws. Next, in consultation with counsel, the vestry and clergy in charge should outline the types of aid and assistance they are willing to offer if an undocumented immigrant should present him- or herself at the church for help. Generally, such forms of aid may include: referral to an attorney, financial assistance in securing counsel, spiritual counsel, prayer and loving support. The assistance may include providing a meal or even temporary shelter, so long as it is clear to everyone, including the immigrant, that there is no intent to protect him or her from detection or lawful arrest or detention should law enforcement authorities make proper inquiry. Be aware that the law is not fully settled in this area, and that “harboring” an undocumented alien is against the law. The diocese will set up workshops offering training on how to be a Sanctuary Church within the law.
If a congregation regularly provides meals, food or shelter to the homeless or impoverished, does it need to check immigration status of those they serve?
No, there is no need to check immigration status for any services offered by the church. All-comers should be treated and welcomed the same, regardless of immigration status.
What if, while providing meals or food or shelter as part of regular church outreach activities, immigration or other law enforcement officers present themselves at your church and wish to search the premises?
Generally, public areas of the church property (like the parish hall when open to the public), are open to law enforcement authorities. On the other hand, except in emergencies, warrants are required for searches of private spaces such as offices or a rectory. We urge respectful cooperation with legal activities of law enforcement authorities. If you question whether or not an area is deemed public, or what kind of law enforcement activities are legal, consult with an attorney.
What should a congregation do if it receives press inquiries about our status as a Sanctuary Church?
Contact the bishop’s office (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance with talking points.
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