Joining forces with a Germantown Jewish group and a South Philadelphia Mennonite congregation, the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia says it will openly defy deportation orders by providing refuge for immigrants facing imminent expulsion from the United States.
The policy is to take effect with a planned announcement Wednesday in South Philadelphia, said leaders of New Sanctuary, which advocates on behalf of undocumented immigrants.
"This is a national issue. We are the local manifestation," said Rabbi Linda Holtzman of the Germantown group, Tikkun Olam Chavurah.
The national campaign that started this week includes sanctuary groups in Arizona, Illinois, Colorado, New Jersey, and California. Churches in Chicago and Tempe, Ariz., already have taken in some immigrants.
Also participating locally is the Indonesian Mennonite congregation of South Philadelphia, led by Pastor Aldo Siahaan, which holds Sunday services at the multiethnic Philadelphia Praise Center near 17th and McKean Streets. "We have seen the impact of deportations on families," said Siahaan, "so we answer God's call by opening our church to bring hope to the people in need."
By taking up residence in a house of worship or other religiously affiliated "safe space," immigrants and their supporters intend to "highlight the injustice of current immigration laws" and "deportations that destroy families," said New Sanctuary spokeswoman Nicole Kligerman.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) directive issued in 2011 says enforcement actions should not occur at "sensitive locations," such as schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues, and mosques, except in "exigent circumstances" such as the imminent risk of death or violence.
Founded last year, Tikkun Olam Chavurah numbers about 100 members, Holtzman said. It does not have a synagogue building and is "working out the details" of where exactly it would house someone. She said, however, that the group is "committed to providing safe space and making sure it is a sanctuary."
In the 1980s, some U.S. churches housed Nicaraguans and Salvadorans fleeing civil wars.
Exasperated by the long-running stalemate over immigration reform in Congress and President Obama's recent announcement that he is postponing his promise to take executive action on the issue, activists are reviving the tactic.
With Obama's announcement, "it reached a tipping point," Holtzman said.
About 1,100 immigrants a day are deported from the United States by ICE, some to "life-threatening circumstances" in lands they fled, Kligerman said.
Civil disobedience is a "tactic to call out ICE and President Obama," she said. "Unjust laws are no laws at all."