Phoenix church offers sanctuary, fears ICE

A look at Phoenix-area locations considered safe for immigrants without legal status.

PHOENIX - Some Phoenix-area churches are offering sanctuary to protect undocumented immigrants who could face deportation.

But these locations, once considered safe for immigrants, may not be the best places to hide anymore.

Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in north Phoenix is one example. Two immigrants live there.

"In the beginning I came alone, but after working and everything, I brought my family,” said Ismael Delgado, who has lived in Arizona without documentation since 1991.

He looked for sanctuary after living here for 25 years, because he received a letter telling him to leave the country.

"I was crying, and crying, and I said, 'Calm down, we're going to fix this,’” said Delgado, explaining his reaction to the letter.

He hasn't stepped foot off church property since then. That was back in October 2015.

The Trump administration has made him more fearful for the life he has built in the United States with his family.

"The extent to which this [immigration] situation has reached is very ugly right now,” he said, adding he is more fearful now than during the time SB 1070 was introduced in our state.

The people who offered him sanctuary have the same concern.

"We're expecting it to be harder -- harder, in some ways, than it was in the 1980s,” said pastor Gene Lefebvre.

His church helped Central American families more than 20 years ago as they fled violence in their countries.

Since then, schools and churches have been considered sensitive zones where immigration enforcement is traditionally overlooked.

But Lefebvre isn't sure he can rely on that now.

"Any religious body, or for that matter any place [offering sanctuary], is under a gun now,” said Lefebvre. “Things are developing so fast politically that it's hard to keep track. We were under more of a threat for jail terms in the 1980s than we are now, so far. But it's going to get harder."

Church leaders assure everyone they are not harboring criminals or breaking laws.

"We send notification to ICE that people [without documents] are here,” said Rev. Ken Heintzelman. "We're just providing a safe place so as to help them get their lives intact and keep their families together."

Heintzelman said his church is trying to provide justice for people caught in what he calls a broken immigration system, which threatens to separate Sixto Paz from his family.

"I have a 5-year-old son. I am here to support him,” said Paz, who has lived in Arizona for 32 years. “[President Trump] wants to take out all of the immigrants? He should start with his own house."

(© 2017 KPNX)


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