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Churches, immigrants, and sanctuary


For some immigrants now facing arrest or deportation because of their immigration status, there may be only one safe place left: a church.

Massachusetts experienced a first this week when an immigrant and her two children took refuge in a Harvard Square church.

Here is a look at the history of churches as a sanctuary, as well as examples of current immigrants seeking help in places of worship around the country.

The sanctuary movement serves to counter a crackdown on illegal immigration by the administration of President Trump. But the idea of sanctuary goes back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, when accused criminals would flee to a temple to avoid authorities.


The action persisted through Europe’s conversion to Christianity and became the law of medieval England somewhere between 500 and 600. The laws continued for about 1,000 years before being scrapped in 1624, Karl Shoemaker, associate professor of history and law at the University of Wisconsin, wrote in his book “Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages.’’

Religious congregations are now publicly protecting at least eight other people facing deportation or arrest by immigration authorities, according to information compiled by the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service.

■   Juana Ortega, a grandmother from Guatemala who has lived in the United States since 1993, was made to wear an ankle bracelet and told to leave the country. She sought shelter in St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, N.C.

■   Ismael Delgado and Sixto Paz, both from Mexico, sought sanctuary in the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix to avoid deportation.

■   Javier Flores, also a Mexican immigrant, feared deportation after entering the country illegally several times. In November, he moved into the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.

■   David Chavez-Macias entered the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada to avoid possible deportation when his work permit was revoked after he ran a red light.


■   Emma, an immigrant from Honduras, found sanctuary in the Albuquerque, N.M., Friends Meeting House after she failed to check in with immigration authorities out of fear.

■   Lorenzo Solorzano Morales and his wife and daughter moved into the Faith, Life, and Hope Mission in Chicago to avoid deportation after Morales was arrested for domestic battery in 2011.

■   Jose Juan Federico Moreno has hidden in the University Church in Chicago’s Hyde Park for six months while facing deportation for an aggravated DUI conviction in 2009.

Andrew Grant can be reached at andrew.grant@globe.com.