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Sanctuary movement to help immigrants here illegally gains strength on LI

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A sanctuary movement focused on shielding from deportation immigrants who are in the United States illegally is gaining strength on Long Island, with clergy and lay people pledging to resist federal officials trying to send such immigrants back to their homelands.

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has declared itself a “sanctuary diocese” — prepared to give shelter in its 129 churches, for weeks or months, to immigrants facing arrest and deportation.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church, a congregation established in 1660, has become the first house of worship on Long Island to individually designate itself a sanctuary, saying it will open its doors to immigrants in jeopardy.

Nearly a dozen self-described “rapid response teams,” with 300 members, have formed throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. The teams are prepared to rush to the scene of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions, accompany immigrants to court and carry out education campaigns informing immigrants of their rights.

The advocates say they are compelled to act by their faith and the Judeo-Christian teaching to help the powerless. They are part of what is called the “New Sanctuary Movement,” which now includes at least 800 houses of worship, according to Manhattan-based Church World Service, an international humanitarian nonprofit.

The informal network of safe havens is expanding as the administration of President Donald Trump intensifies efforts to deport immigrants here illegally and the future remains uncertain for Dreamers — young people brought illegally to the United States as children years ago.

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island’s move is “a clear expression of the Gospel message that calls us to care for our brothers and sisters and to welcome the stranger,” said the Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, bishop of the diocese that covers Nassau and Suffolk counties, Queens and Brooklyn.

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