- Unitarian Universalism Connection
First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts, will offer physical sanctuary to a person(s) facing imminent deportation. We need more than $9,000 to create this sanctuary space in our church.
We must all bear witness to injustice. Jeanette Vizguerra has been in sanctuary at the First Unitarian Church in Denver since Feb. 16. The mother of four, who is facing impending deportation from the United States, hopes to gain a “stay of deportation.” She has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, having entered the country illegally from Mexico in 1997. Three of her children are American citizens. Yes, Vizguerra is a lawbreaker. Twenty years ago, she came here illegally. In 2009, she pleaded guilty to using a faked — not stolen — Social Security number to gain work. Vizguerra was ordered out of the country, but remains because the courts have granted her several deportation postponements. She has been seeking a visa, and has support from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and members of Colorado’s congressional delegation. Her situation — before she thrust herself into the national spotlight — is similar to that of millions of others working and living here illegally. Their plight is the result of terribly flawed employment verification rules, years of unconscionable inaction from our nation’s legislators, and now Trump’s approach to deportation.
We must all respond to injustice. UUs have issued a Declaration of Conscience to commit to putting Unitarian Universalist values into action to resist the hate, fear and bigotry we are hearing in public and political discourse and seeing in national, state and local policies. The word from many communities and multi-faith coalitions who are working with impacted people like Jeanette is that we need to create protection zones and broad sanctuary policies in our communities.
On April 2, 2017, First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts voted to become a sanctuary congregation. The text of our approved resolution reads as follows:
First Parish, Bedford, will offer sanctuary in our building to a person or persons at risk of deportation until their case is administratively closed, they win judicial relief from removal, or they decide to leave sanctuary at First Parish. The Congregation undertakes this commitment with the understanding that:
- The time it takes to resolve a sanctuary case cannot be predetermined.
- The person(s) in sanctuary will not be able to leave the building without facing the risk of I.C.E. detention or arrest. Only the person(s) in sanctuary can decide to take this risk.
Since the need for sanctuary in our area could arise at any time, we must expedite our preparations. We at First Parish Bedford have the opportunity to resist an anti-immigrant government, to keep a family from being fractured, and to provide you with a meaningful way to participate in our project. Many local individuals, community groups, and religious congregations that cannot possibly offer physical sanctuary have committed to assist us by offering the many, many volunteer hours necessary to support a person(s) in sanctuary. Sanctuary stays in the United States over the past several years have ranged anywhere from 3 to 18 months before achieving a successful rescision of the deportation order. This is a long-term commitment. We need your help as soon as possible to construct a suitable space in our church for sanctuary.
SANCTUARY SPACE On the second floor of our beautiful 1817 meeting house is a small, sun-lit conference room with an adjoining kitchenette.
Our plan is to construct a privacy wall to create a comfortable sanctuary space. Fortunately, there are toilet and lavatory facilities just across the hall; however, there is no shower. Our building team has developed an affordable plan to add a shower to a large handicapped bathroom on the first floor of the church without compromising access for all. Adding a washer and dryer in the basement and making the kitchenette suitable for a long-term resident(s) have taken our projected cost to about $10,000. Your donations to our 30-day Faithify Campaign will provide a rapid response to a potentially urgent need for sanctuary space. Our plan is to raise the rest of the money via private donations and small grant requests.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT Our parishioners and community partners have committed to providing the on-going living expenses and social needs of our resident(s) in sanctuary: food, personal care items, clothing, visitations, movie nights, congregate dinners, tutoring and the like. We have arranged for committed professionals to provide any necessary medical/dental care in-house if possible. Our insurance company has been apprised. We are preparing our parishioners and allies using the Massachusetts Communities Action Network’s 2017 Sanctuary/Solidarity Congregation Toolkit as a guide.
ADVOCACY The Sanctuary Task Force at First Parish in Bedford fully intends to make our plans for creating a physical space for sanctuary of an immigrant(s) in danger of unjust deportation a cause celebre. Bearing witness, engaging in civil disobedience to confront and reverse injustice, and engaging communities, both local and global, in our social justice activities is quintessentially UU. We shall shout loudly, clearly, and constantly what we are doing in providing sanctuary and why we are doing so. Join us. Give now… and thank you so very much!