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Haven Of Hope: Inside the sanctuary movement

According to Global Church Service, more than 800 faith communities are taking part in the sanctuary movement. (WWMT/Courtesy of Church World Service)

Take a close look at the First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo; in one of the windows is a sign that reads, "Attention Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Do Not Enter Without a Lawful Search Warrant."

Similar signs have become prevalent in some churches, synagogues and mosques across the nation, ever since President Donald Trump signed an executive order putting a greater emphasis on arresting those who are undocumented in the United States.

Deportations and arrests of those in the U.S. illegally have increased since the executive order, but some say the stricter enforcement is penalizing those who have little control over their circumstances.

Many immigration activists have since started a sanctuary movement, encouraging places of worship to take in those facing deportation.

According to Church World Service, a major organizer of the sanctuary movement, more than 800 individuals and groups have signed up to offer sanctuary.

Back at the First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo, the Rev. Nathan Dannison considers his church a sanctuary church. He has opened the church as a home to Saheeda Nadeem, a 62-year-old woman who is originally from Pakistan and came to the U.S. with her then-husband and two small children in 2005.

Before taking sanctuary in the church, Nadeem worked as a caregiver for refugees and those with disabilities in Kalamazoo.

She said she would check in with immigration enforcement every year, and the agency would let her stay without problems, seeing as she was a law-abiding citizen. With stricter enforcement, however, she said she was recently told by ICE she would likely be apprehended and possibly deported.

Dannison, like others opposing the increase in deportations, is letting Nadeem stay inside the church, knowing about ICE policies that strongly discourage making arrests in places of worship and several other sensitive areas.

"The church has to protect vulnerable people; it doesn't matter who is coming after them," Dannison said.

Nadeem has been living inside the church for more than 67 days (as of the writing of this article), and is currently seeking a stay of deportation through the legal system.

Meanwhile, Dannison said, the community response to Nadeem seeking refuge has been mostly positive, while also acknowledging that some view it as controversial.


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