A Colorado preschool says it’s shutting its doors after the church where it rented space declared itself a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, leaving parents of the toddlers miffed.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder decided last month that it would provide living space to an illegal immigrant as part of its religious duties, spurring parents to start pulling their kids from the preschool that rented space from the church.
The student flight was bad enough that the school said it will shut down at the end of this month.
“Because the church made the decision, parents were uncomfortable,” said Tina Davis, director at Active Boulder Kids Preschool.
The church said it arrived at the decision after months of education and discussion among members. The Rev. Kelly Dignan said the congregation voted with 90 percent in favor on Oct. 29 to become a sanctuary.
“This is a key part of our religious exercise. It’s a really important religious duty, and we feel like deportations are tearing families apart, creating trauma in our community, and so it’s part of our religious duty to be part of the solution,” she said.
Under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s current policies, churches are generally considered off limits for deportation officers. Schools are also considered sensitive locations.
Given that policy, a number of churches this year have announced they would become sanctuaries and host illegal immigrants to protect them from deportation.
In the case of the Boulder church, they’re at the start of the process. They’re having to install a shower and conducted a security review that recommended new locks and closed-door policies in order to become a sanctuary.
They don’t have a migrant yet and are working with a Denver-based group that will recommend someone. The pastor said the Denver group only works with nonviolent migrants, but she was unsure of what that meant in practice when it came to the level of criminal charges someone might have faced.
She said the church will alert ICE once it has someone living there in order to be fully open and transparent about its actions.
She declined to talk about the preschool’s decision, referring calls to the church’s lawyer.
Taking sanctuary in churches to avoid deportation dates back decades, and there was a surge of churches announcing they would become sanctuaries during the Obama administration, when deportations reached a record high.
Interest surged again this year in response to President Trump’s demand that current immigration laws be adhered to.
The Sanctuary Movement claims more than 700 religious congregations that have proclaimed they are willing to be sanctuaries.
The movement said last week it will step in to offer sanctuary to potentially thousands of illegal immigrants from Nicaragua after the Trump administration said it would end special protected status for people who have been in the U.S. for nearly two decades under a special temporary program after Hurricane Mitch devastated their home.
But the Boulder church and preschool suggest those decisions can have other effects.
Ms. Davis, the preschool’s director, said parents were conflicted over the church’s sanctuary policy but were irked at the church’s decision-making.
“It was the way it was handled and how quickly it was thrown against them and not having their voices heard,” Ms. Davis said. “A lot of the parents wanted the church to give us more notice than they gave so we could finish off the year.”
With so many parents pulling out, the school had no choice but to close its doors. Ms. Davis said they’re not sure they’ll look for another location.
Ms. Dignan said preschool parents were invited to be part of the sanctuary education process.
She also said there have been no lasting hard feelings among those in her congregation who opposed the sanctuary decision, saying they’re still coming to worship service.
“As Unitarian Universalists we believe that courageous love transforms the world, and that’s what we’re offering as part of our religious duty,” she said.
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