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Saratoga Springs Faith Community To Offer Sanctuary

Lucas Willard
The PNECC campus on Circular Street

Members of the Saratoga Springs faith community are seeking to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Their announcement comes just after federal immigration officials arrested 16 people in the Spa City.

Undocumented immigrants may seek sanctuary at at least one location in Saratoga Springs.

Recently, the church governing board and congregation of the  Presbyterian New England Congregational Church of Saratoga Springs voted to join a community of religious organizations across the country to welcome immigrants regardless of immigration status.

Church Elder Terry Diggory said U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement recognizes places of worship as “sensitive locations.”

“So, ordinarily, they will not carry out enforcement actions on a church property,” said Diggory.

According to ICE, other sensitive locations include schools, hospitals, the site of a public religious ceremony, and the site of a public demonstration.

The agency’s website says “enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided.  ICE or CBP officers and agents may conduct an enforcement action at a sensitive location with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official, or if the enforcement action involves exigent circumstances.”

PNECC is prepared to offer use of an apartment on the church campus on Circular Street to anyone who feels they are under threat of deportation. Recently, ICE arrested 16 undocumented individuals in town.

“That action has just ramped up the level of fear and anxiety in our community so high.”

Joe Cleveland is Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs. He says since the ICE raid, some people in town are afraid to go outside.

“This isn’t necessarily about whether you’ve got official papers or not. This is, ‘If I go out walking down the street, somebody is going to think maybe I don’t belong here.’”

Cleveland’s church is partnering with PNECC to offer sanctuary.

In addition to providing living quarters, PNECC also will offer space and an internet connection for individuals to get legal documents in order.

Leaders of PNECC, the Unitarian church, and four other religious organizations recently delivered a joint letter supporting a statement by city police chief Greg Veitch.

Veitch spoke to the city council in May and said that his department will commit to serving the entire community and will “recognize the dignity of all persons, regardless of their immigration status.”

Diggory said before PNECC went public with its plan to offer sanctuary, they sat down to discuss the idea with Chief Veitch.

“And talked about what our understanding of that action was and tried to hear any concerns that he might have and develop a mutual understanding and assurance that we were all concerned about public safety,” said Diggory.

A member of the church also serves on the city’s recently established Human Rights Task Force.

Cleveland says his church is one of several in the Capital Region that has served as witnesses for immigrants brought to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security office in Latham.

He says all the work is not just to aid immigrants but also to reduce fear and stigmatization in the community he believes is harmful.

“They’re part of the vitality of our community. They’re part of our families. They’re part of our religious communities. They’re part of our businesses. And we’re tearing those families apart, and we’re tearing ourselves apart. And we feel violated and invaded,’ said Cleveland.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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