Philly congregations join to harbor undocumented immigrants

A coalition of Philadelphia congregations has pledged to provide “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants imminently facing deportation.

During a Wednesday morning press conference in South Philadelphia, members of the New Sanctuary Movement announced that they will help house immigrants in an effort to keep them in the U.S.

The group says it’s time for Washington to overhaul immigration reform. Too many undocumented immigrants, members maintain, are needlessly living in fear.

“[President Obama] had made fairly clear that over this summer he would be reviewing that policy and he would be, in all likelihood, changing it and moving toward immigration reform and instead said, no, he’s waiting until after the election in November for him to take this up,” said Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who leads Tikkun Olam Chavurah in Germantown.

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Holtzman’s Northwest Philadelphia congregation is one of two that will give pending deportees a place to stay. The other is the Philadelphia Praise Center, the site of Wednesday’s press conference.

Pastor Aldo Siahaan, who leads the McKean Street center, has watched members of his diverse congregation disappear because they’ve been deported.

And the heartbreak that follows.

It’s part of why he’s willing to stand up to U.S. immigration agents – even go to jail – to protect the city’s undocumented immigrants.

“This is kind of like a circle. When we give hope to someone, one day you need hope too. When we extend our hand, one day we also need help from other people. So this is a story about family. You have family. Everyone has family,” said Siahaan. “And if they don’t care, start within your family – think about if that’s happening to your family.”

During the 2013 fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – deported nearly 6,000 people from Philadelphia.

More than 2,000 immigrants had been deported through early June of this year.

Through Aug. 31, 2014, Philadelphia Immigration Court had 5,253 pending cases. Not all of those cases will necessarily end in deportation.

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