Sanctuary Churches in Detroit and Elsewhere Seek to Protect Immigrants

“I think churches do have a special responsibility to do something [to protect immigrants].”

Jake Neher/WDET

As Congress tries to put together a deal this week to address DACA and immigration, President Donald Trump says he thinks a deal is unlikely.

This throws into question the future of millions of people living in America, including people who came here as children with their parents when they moved here illegally.

Many communities and institutions of higher learning have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. So have churches and other places of worship.

In light of recent immigration enforcement raids across the country places of worship hope ICE agents are less likely to burst into their buildings looking for immigrants to detain. Some churches right here in Detroit are doing the same thing.

Rev. Jill Zundel is pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Downtown Detroit, which has taken in families as part of the sanctuary church movement. Zundel says she thinks it’s possible there will be a wave of families who seek sanctuary at places of worship due to ICE raids and the mood in Washington surrounding immigration.

“We are preparing for it,” says Zundel. “We’re trying to recruit other churches to step up and help [families seeking sanctuary as well].”

Shikha Dalmia is senior analyst with the Reason Foundation, and recently wrote a piece in Reason Magazine titled, “Sanctuary Churches Take in Immigrants and Take on Trump”.

Dalmia writes:

Historically, governments in functional polities have maintained a hands-off posture toward such civil society institutions. There are two excellent reasons for this.

First, these entities are engaged in vital relief activity that transcends political considerations. They require and deserve the widest possible space in which to carry out their missions. Doctors and hospitals are supposed to save lives, soup kitchens are supposed to feed the hungry, schools are supposed to educate children, courts are supposed to uphold the rights even of lawbreakers, and churches are supposed to minister to people without regard to the station—or legal status—of those they’re serving. They have an ethos of no-holds-barred, no-questions-asked universal service. Humanitarian groups go where the need is the greatest, and aggressive policing would prevent them from doing so.

Second, the government—including, in this case, ICE—relies heavily on these entities to relieve its own burden for providing critical social services to needy people who fall into its lap. Over time, therefore, a natural quid pro quo has evolved, where law enforcement leaves groups to do their work, and they step in when the authorities need their help. This is especially true for medical camps and churches, and in particular for Pennington’s and Heintzelman’s churches, which ICE regularly enlists to take care of asylum seekers when it can’t.

“I think churches do have a special responsibility to do something [to protect immigrants], because they’re in a special position to do so,” Dalmia tells Detroit Today.

To hear more on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.