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Congregations to provide immigrant sanctuary

Two Philadelphia congregations opened their doors to the city's undocumented immigrants who face immediate deportation.

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On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Tikkun Olam Chavurah congregation in Germantown announced that its doors are open to shelter undocumented immigrants who face deportation.

“We are not a big group but we are a group that is committed to providing sanctuary for anyone who is going to be deported by an unjust system,” Rabbi Linda Holtzman said, adding that members consulted on the decision were in full support. “We’re glad that we can move into a New Year really doing something that we believe in,” Holtzman said.

Rabbi Linda Holtzman has been a member of New Sanctuary Movement since its inception, she said.

The Northwest Philadelphia Jewish congregation is one of two that offered sanctuary from deportation as part of a national movement responding to President Obama’s failure to act on immigration reform. Earlier this year, the president vowed to act by the end of the summer, but has since pushed that date closer to winter. In 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that an average of 1,000 people were deported every day. Immigrants rights advocates point out that the president could take executive action to grant amnesty and save thousands of families from separation.

The Philadelphia Praise Center, an Indonesian Mennonite Church in South Philadelphia, has also opened its doors to shelter immigrants. Nine other churches that are members of  New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia have offered support.

“This is the church of immigrants,” Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center said. “Here, Philadelphia Praise Center and other churches, we offer a sacred space because family is something sacred. We demand that the president does the same to create a nation of sanctuary, never again deporting one more person.”

Pastor Aldo Siahaan said that 90 percent of Philadelphia Praise Center's members are immigrants.

Congregations throughout the country, from Chicago to Arizona, have publicly announced that they would defy the law and take action to provide a place for those facing an immediate threat of deportation and separation from their families. The Philadelphia congregations are not yet sure how many people will accept their offer, but have a plan to shelter them in members homes.

“As Jews, we’re all children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants who came from countries where they were mistreated and found a life in the United States that enabled us to thrive,” Holtzman said. “Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is really starting the New Year with your eyes fully open, able to bring greater justice to your journey through life.”

 
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