Sanctuary for the Undocumented in North Carolina

Sanctuary is a place of safety or refuge, usually a church. North Carolina has provided sanctuary to six undocumented immigrants facing deportation in churches in Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh. Churches offer themselves as sanctuaries because it is expected that ICE will not go into places of worship to arrest people. Sadly, one of these six sanctuary men was arrested in 2018 when he left the church to keep an appointment with immigration officials. He was subsequently deported.

In Raleigh, Umstead Park United Church of Christ has hosted Eliseo Jimenez, an undocumented immigrant, for more than two years. They have provided a private living space, bathroom, and he has his own refrigerator in the church kitchen. Originally church members were there 24/7 to act as first line of defense should ICE arrive. After more than a year, when they realized that there were no reported instances of ICE making a sanctuary raid at night, the Sanctuary Host hours were cut to 10 am – 8 pm. Members of other churches and synagogues have also volunteered to serve as hosts, including several members from UUFR.

Initially we hoped the sanctuary for Eliseo would only be necessary to a few months, until his case would be settled.  Unfortunately, the long time of being confined to the church and grounds is depressing for Eliseo. His wife and two young children live in Greensboro where his wife works. When the children are not in school they live with Eliseo and his wife visits on weekends. Currently the children have been living with him since school attendance ended in March.

We hope that a change in the xenophobic political climate will allow him to return fully to his family and livelihood.

Pat Butler
For the Immigrant and Refugee Ministry Team