Clergy want Baker to forcefully oppose Trump refugee edict

Scores of interfaith clergy and religious activists on Tuesday called on Governor Charlie Baker to strongly oppose President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees and pressed the state’s top elected official to make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.”

In a morning gathering at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul across from Boston Common, the group of mostly liberal Christian and Jewish faith leaders urged Baker to more forcefully condemn the two executive orders signed by Trump last week. Their call for Baker to act joins a rising chorus of religious figures, activists, and Democrats urging the Republican governor to more forcefully break with the national leader of his party.

Baker has issued a statement criticizing the order, which temporarily bans refugees, indefinitely halts resettlement of Syrians here, and blocks legal immigrants and travelers from six other majority-Muslim countries. He has also voiced support for Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit challenging the legality of the orders in federal court. Baker is continuing to meet with representatives of business, health care, and educational institutions to discuss their concerns, a spokesman said.


But the religious leaders chastised Baker for failing to show up at protests over the weekend at Logan Airport and in Copley Square, and for not backing stronger support for undocumented workers and “sanctuary cities,” municipalities that have pledged to protect them. “He has been quite silent on the issue,” said Carlos Saavedra an activist working with Cosecha, a group that advocates for undocumented immigrants.

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He also questioned what would have happened to travelers detained under the order if throngs of people had not shown up at Logan and other airports.

The Rev. Dorothella Littlepage, an Episcopal priest who serves a collaboration of churches in Roxbury and Dorchester, said she has been moved to tears by stories of people affected by the order, including an undocumented immigrant who wondered when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would come looking for him.

“We are standing up and proclaiming that we will stand with our Muslim neighbors, and we will stand with undocumented immigrants,” she said.

The clergy urged Baker to support the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act, a pending proposal that would prohibit state and local police from participating in immigration enforcement, provide due process rights for those detained for civil immigration violations, and prohibit any “Muslim registry” or similar federal effort from accessing state databases.


Baker has said municipalities should make their own decisions about whether to designate themselves “sanctuary cities,” but he does not support making Massachusetts a “sanctuary state,” as the Safe Communities Act would do.

“The administration will continue to enforce policies giving the State Police the tools necessary to detain violent criminals or suspected terrorists wanted by federal authorities,” a spokeswoman, Lizzy Guyton, said last week.

The governor has said, however, that he opposes cutting off federal funding to sanctuary communities, as Trump’s executive order would do.

Billy Pitman, a spokesman for the governor, said Baker plans to share concerns he has about the executive order on refugees and immigration with the Trump administration.

“Governor Baker opposes the recent executive order as it puts our global community and economy at risk, will not improve our security, and lacks the guidance associated with such an abrupt and overwhelming decision that is problematic for all involved,” Pitman said.


A number of religious communities have begun declaring themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. The Massachusetts Communities Action Network, which convened Tuesday’s gathering, has been holding trainings around the state teaching churches how to shelter or help undocumented immigrants.

The Rev. Edwin Johnson, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dorchester, a sanctuary church, noted that some of the great biblical figures of the three Abrahamic faiths — Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus — had the experience of being refugees. Standing up for those being oppressed, he said, “isn’t just some nice thing to do” but rather a way of encountering people and raising up “leaders who teach us how to be better human beings.”

The Rev. Cody Sanders of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, which this month decided to join with other nearby churches in offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, said there will be “little distinction between the pulpit and the protest” in the days to come.

And, a day after 17 major Jewish organizations in the Boston area issued a statement condemning Trump’s actions, a group of Massachusetts heads-of-church issued a similar condemnation. The signers represented Orthodox, Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and mainline Protestant clergy.

“Our Christian tradition is clear,” the Christian leaders’ statement said. “Deuteronomy 10:19 commands, ‘You shall also love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.’ The Holy Family was forced to flee the violence of their homeland (Matthew 2). Our Savior was a migrant.”

The Roman Catholic bishops of Fall River and Springfield signed the statement, but Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, did not.

A spokesman for the cardinal, Terrence Donilon, noted that O’Malley had expressed concern for refugees and immigrants in a recent blog post, and that the archdiocesan newspaper recently reposted a column he wrote in 2015 warning against fear of immigrants and prejudice against Muslims.

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at