A woman fighting deportation has received sanctuary at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission and is getting support from Chicago area religious leaders, who are calling for the end of mass deportations and for immigration reform.
Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, a native of Mexico and a single mother of two young American children, was the victim of sexual assault in the U.S. and cooperated in the investigation, leading to a conviction. That should make her eligible for a special visa. But she hasn’t been able to get one because a public official has not certified those facts, said advocates.
“We are here to respond to the necessity that we have right now with our immigrant community,” said Father Jose Landaverde of Our Lady of Guadalupe, speaking at a news conference Monday at the mission. “The church is the only hope that they have.”
In a resurgence of the so-called sanctuary movement from the 1980s, congregations across the country are taking public stands to provide sanctuary to immigrants and fight their deportations. The actions are a response to the two million deportations under President Barack Obama’s administration, Congressional gridlock and delayed executive action, advocates say.
“We are here to stand in solidarity with Beatriz and her two young children and the church that is keeping her safe,” said Judy Levey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
“Beatriz and people like her who have suffered from … violence needn’t be subject to further oppression by bureaucracy. We strongly urge officials in southern Illinois to resolve the unnecessary bureaucratic delays that prevent Beatriz from building her life.”
Levey was joined by roughly 10 religious leaders, including Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, the Rev. John Thomas, special assistant to the President at Chicago Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Eric Ledermann, pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Ariz., among others.
Ramirez, 32, came to the United States 11 years ago seeking to earn money to take care of her family, she said through a translator. She has worked in agriculture in Florida and at a factory in Illinois packing products.
“Latino brothers and sisters are urban and rural migrant workers no different from when Europeans were able to come freely and find opportunity in this country,” said the Rev. Julian DeShazier, senior pastor at University Church in Chicago. “To deny them is to say that they aren’t our brothers and sisters.”
He contended churches must be the guardians of equality and basic human dignity.
“Across various faiths, and traditions and ethnicities and races here in Chicago and across this nation, we are compelled to stand arm and arm with the vulnerable until justice is served,” he said.
“Sanctuary is important work for faith communities that seek to expose the inhumanity of our immigration laws. Mass deportations and family separations must end, and if the government won’t accept responsibility, then we will find a way to make a difference by working together with those afflicted and their allies.”
Landaverde said the mission has reached out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Ramirez has an immigration attorney working on her behalf. He said the church is prepared to provide her sanctuary for as long as she needs it.
“We are responding to the gospel and to the bible [to] … our obligations as Christians, as believers to respond to God’s command to give sanctuary,” he said.
The religious leaders gathered around Ramirez outside the mission performing “the laying on of hands” — a blessing ritual — and prayed that God protect her and her family. Afterward, before entering the mission, they removed their shoes in a sign of reverence to the holiness of the mission and the sanctuary space it provided Ramirez.
Ramirez said through a translator that she is grateful to the mission and all who are helping her in her quest to remain in the U.S.
Immigration reform legislation has been stalled in Congress, and no action is expected before the November elections.