Seeking a Sanctuary

Cheryl Valentine shares what it would mean for a church to become a sanctuary.


Pictured behind is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbors logo. The image is representative of a chalice, which is lit during every service.

What would it mean for The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor to become a sanctuary?

“I think it would mean standing up and putting our ideals into action. We believe in the worth and dignity of every individual and this would be a chance to stand up in the community and say that we are willing to take a stand against injustice. It would also give individuals within the congregation an avenue to actually be engaged in promoting justice.”


What needs to happen in order for the church to transition?

“For the past year we’ve really been laying the groundwork for it and basically what we need to do is to have a positive vote on Oct. 22nd, and there need to be quorum of members of the church and the quorum needs to be voting in the affirmative 75%… Then after that there’s a sanctuary task force at UUAA and that task force has been exploring the logistics. Where will they be living? How will it affect people coming into the congregation? How will the space be used? What kind of security will we need to install? All those kinds of questions. The sanctuary guests will be staying in the Marley room on the lower level of the church. The room is kind of tucked away but has very nice high windows with lots of light coming in with a sink. Right across from it there’s a bathroom with a shower. We’re thinking that the area outside the room will be sort of a common area with a couch and some comfy chairs so that can be used kind of as a conversation area.”


Would it be a whole family of people or single person?

“We have to be ready. We don’t know yet.”


Could it be more than one person at a time?

“Yes, there could, but I would assume it would be a single man or women with family connections in the community. Most of the people now who are being detained and threatened with deportation aren’t people coming here from somewhere else. They are people who have lived in our community for sometimes 20-30 years, and they have children who are American citizens and attend schools. They have their own houses, they have jobs, they own their own businesses, and the government has been telling them you’re okay all this time, and now all of a sudden since January, when Trump was elected they’re cracking down and telling those same people now you’re not okay. They now have to return somewhere where they don’t even have a clue what their going back to.”


When someone goes into sanctuary they cannot leave the church right?

“Correct, they can’t.”


But their family can come visit them?



What is the legal aspect of this? If someone is in sanctuary, the ICE can’t come get them?

“There is actually no law, but its a custom for thousands of years that special places like churches, hospitals, and schools would be spaces where immigration authorities would not enter. There has been a protocol put down for ICE agents that they would respect that, but we don’t know, that could change. The thing with a sanctuary is it’s an act of civil disobedience… If they [ICE] came after hours, then we would have a security system. The building would be locked, but there would be a camera outside and we would ask whoever it was to identify themselves and if the were with a federal agency, and they had a properly filled out search warrant with the date and with the sanctuary guests name on it, then we would have to let them in, If they didn’t then there would be no way we would have to open the door, legally. So we would follow whatever’s legal and the only reason they would have a search warrant is if the sanctuary guest was suspected of having committed a crime.”


What needs to happen in order for someone to come out of sanctuary?

“What we’re hoping for is that before we would take someone into sanctuary, their immigration lawyer would have to think that there is a possibility that they could have a legal route to staying in the country if they have a little more time to work on it. So it just depends on how long it takes. In some cases people have gone into sanctuary and within three days the ICE folks have said “well okay we’ll give you a stay of deportation” and that is legal paperwork that they can stay and work on their case. Once they get that, they can come out. Others it has taken longer…So we take somebody in, our work isn’t done just offering them sanctuary the work is really just beginning. You want to advocate for them, you want to generate a lot of media coverage so people know what the issue is.”