Clergy from more than 30 congregations in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota vowed Tuesday to shelter immigrants facing deportation or support other churches that do.

Clergy said they are forming a new network of sanctuary places of worship in response to President Elect Donald Trump’s pledge to step up deportations when he takes office in January.

Organizers with the group ISAIAH said congregations have committed to shelter immigrants in defiance of immigration authorities or to provide financial and other support.

“We will not let politics come before the sacredness of people,” said JaNae Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and communications director for ISAIAH. “As a human being, you are sacred so you should be safe in our sacred space.”

The news conference, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, came amid a larger debate about what’s become known as the sanctuary movement.

Since his election, Trump has scaled back a campaign trail plan to deport all immigrants in the country illegally. He has said that, at least initially, he would focus on removing immigrants with criminal convictions, echoing the approach of the Obama administration, which has deported a record number of people. But clergy argued a ratcheting up of rhetoric on this year’s campaign trail spurred the formation of the network now.

“Many of us standing here have been asleep, and we have been woken up by the terror and the fear that immigrants are feeling now,” said Grant Stevensen of Church of the Redeemer. “We intend to stay awake.”

Trump has also pledged to work with Congress to block federal funding to sanctuary cities, which generally prohibit local law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status and only honor requests to hold inmates for immigration authorities in limited cases. In recent years, opponents of the sanctuary movement have trained a spotlight on high-profile crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally who had previous convictions.

The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis have said they won’t change their approach, which they argue ensures immigrants are not afraid to come forward when they are victims or witnesses to crimes. The St. Police Department recently posted multilingual videos telling residents not to be afraid of calling the police. The videos went viral.

Meanwhile, a movement to declare colleges and universities in Minnesota and nationally as sanctuary campuses has been gaining steam. At the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff signed a petition urging officials to prevent campus police from cooperating with immigration authorities, provide legal counsel to immigrant students facing deportation and commit to find jobs for students who would lose their work permits if Trump ends an Obama administration program that offered temporary deportation reprieves to young people brought to the country illegally as children.

In a written response last week, Kaler promised the university would support immigrant students regardless of their immigration status. But he stopped short of committing to the petition’s specific requests, saying his administration needs more information on what the Trump government will actually do.

“Be assured that the University will stay true to its values and advocate for our undocumented students, international students and all members of our community,” wrote Kaler, who also signed a statement in support of DACA with more than 400 other college and university presidents.

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(c)2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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