A SOUTH Philadelphia church and a Mount Airy Jewish community group will offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants as part of a nationwide civil act of disobedience in response to President Obama's inaction on immigration reform.
Each congregation will open its doors to house an undocumented immigrant - who will be defying a federal deportation order - and his or her family.
This act of civil disobedience is part of a National Day of Action, said Peter Pedemonti, director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, which will hold a news conference today at the Philadelphia Praise Center, on McKean Street near 17th.
The Philadelphia Praise Center, which is an Indonesian Mennonite church, and a Jewish community group, Tikkun Olam Chavurah, are the congregations that have agreed to provide sanctuary. Nine other churches in the city and suburbs have committed to offering assistance, such as providing food or emotional support.
All the congregations are part of the New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith, multicultural immigrant-justice organization.
"In the past year, immigration reform failed," Pedemonti said yesterday. "Obama said, 'If Congress fails, I will act.' And he put it off and put it off. These [federal immigration] laws are unjust and at the New Sanctuary Movement, we can no longer obey these laws."
Obama earlier this year promised to act unilaterally on immigration reform by the end of the summer, but recently decided to delay action until after the November congressional elections. An executive order could save millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Critics of such a move, including congressional Republicans, have decried it as an "executive amnesty" for those in the country illegally.
Rabbi Linda Holtzman, of Tikkun Olam Chavurah, said yesterday that as immigrants or descendants of immigrants, the Jewish community is composed of "people whose lives were saved because they were given sanctuary either here in the United States or elsewhere."
She said her group has not yet decided where an undocumented person or family will be housed. The space offered could be a place where the group worships, in a member's home or in a place rented for this purpose, she said.
"It has been so frustrating watching how slowly Obama is moving on immigration reform," said Holtzman, 62.
Pedemonti said the New Sanctuary Movement has not yet decided which undocumented immigrant it will pair with the congregations offering sanctuary.
He said for the South Philly church, the undocumented immigrant and his or her family would live in the church. He expects that families will move into the two sanctuary spaces in the next month or two, and that more congregations will later decide to offer sanctuary, as well.
"The person in sanctuary will not be leaving the premises," Pedemonti said. His or her family, which could include people here legally, would be free to go in and out. The amount of time the person will live in the sanctuary space will be decided between the person and the congregation.
Nine other cities nationwide will also announce today that they will offer physical sanctuary to immigrants with deportation orders, the New Sanctuary Movement said.
Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter's spokesman, noted in an email yesterday that "as a matter of administration policy, we have worked at being a welcoming city toward all immigrants."
The mayor, in April, had signed an executive order significantly limiting collaboration between Philadelphia police and federal immigration authorities, essentially ending "ICE holds."
The order precludes police from honoring detainer requests lodged by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement except in cases where a person is convicted of a first- or second-degree felony involving violence, and only when ICE secures a warrant to support the detainer.