KC, area churches entering into immigration debate

Daniel Romero thinks the people of God have an obligation to help illegal immigrants whose families face being split up by deportation.”The faith community realizes there are higher laws, such as saving lives or saving children,” Romero said. “With the kinds of conditions the families we’re talking about here today face, we realize the laws on the books just aren’t going to cut it.”Romero is lead organizer of Interfaith Worker Justice in Kansas City. His organization is helping to spearhead local churches’ involvement in the New Sanctuary Movement, a national effort to have churches assist, and in some cases provide shelter for, illegal immigrants.The local New Sanctuary movement held a rally this week to kick off its involvement. Romero admitted there’s nothing to keep local or federal agents from going onto a church property to detain immigrants they’re wanting to arrest or deport.But federal agents respected the idea of “sanctuary” in the case of Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant who lived in a Chicago church for a year. Agents arrested her in Los Angeles with her son, who was born in the United States, after traveling to a pro-immigration rally there.Still, there is disagreement over whether providing shelter to an illegal immigrant is against the law.The churches involved in the movement say it’s legal because they’re not interfering with agents coming onto the property. Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor and chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, told the Associated Press this week that he thinks it is illegal.”There are many points of about the role of churches in our society and how much civic engagement there should be,” Kobach said. “But I think one area that until very recently has been pretty clear is, churches shouldn’t themselves violate federal law.”The churches involved in the Kansas City movement say they have yet to shelter an illegal immigrant.But in an interview earlier this month with the Journal-World, Romero said the churches had identified one family they were considering helping. In that case, federal agents were attempting to deport a 17-year-old, Mexican-born boy who has three younger siblings who are American citizens.”Now, all he wants to do is stay with his family in the country that’s become his own,” Romero said.Romero said the New Sanctuary Movement follows in a long line of civil disobedience for faith leaders in the United States, including the Underground Railroad, civil rights and voting rights.Lauren Reinhold, a Lawrence immigration attorney, said she could see benefits for getting churches involved in the immigration debate.”It’s my impression that this is an act of humanitarian protest against ripping families apart,” Reinhold said. “Especially because it’s a church, it’s more of a broad base, and more of a sense of credibility than other groups might.”Ultimately, though, she said it will be up to Congress to come up with immigration reform – something it failed to do so far.”Most of us practicing immigration law think some humanitarian angle should be approached here,” she said. “We were disappointed Congress couldn’t do something.”_ – Faith Files, which examines issues of faith, spirituality, morals and ethics, is updated by features/faith reporter Terry Rombeck. Have an idea for the blog? Contact Terry at trombeck@ljworld.com, or 832-7145._