NEWBERRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) - A church in Newberry County has announced its plans to become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, despite federal law that prohibits the practice.
The 15-member congregation began considering the idea eight months ago and voted on it in October, according to church officials.
Members of the Clayton Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Newberry held a press conference Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. to publicly explain their decision and stance on the matter.
They said the decision to offer sanctuary has been eight months in the making. They plan to house a few undocumented immigrants “carefully selected” who have deportation orders.
Those individuals will remain at church until case is resolved, members said Tuesday.
“If someone lives here they will be living here with our protection, they will not be able to leave the church grounds and what we will be doing for them is working with immigration attorneys and other people to do everything we can to get their deportation order overturned,” Sam Stone, the church’s board chairman, said.
In January, the church plans to begin renovations on its fellowship hall to install two private residences as well as bathroom plumbing. After the renovations are complete, it hopes to invite undocumented immigrants to stay. Stone said the undocumented immigrants will not be allowed to leave church property, must have an open deportation order ongoing in court and cannot have a criminal record.
“This is our opportunity to be transparent and educate people so if they want to join forces, that would be awesome,” Marsha DeRoshier, the church’s treasurer, said.
Despite openly acknowledging a violation of federal law, church members said they hope their actions inspire others around the state to live by their faith.
“We are hoping to give people that are looking for a way to do something about a situation that they feel as strongly as we do that needs addressed, we’re hoping them to give a way to do that,” Stone said.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said when church members approached him about their plan, he immediately contacted the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“If you don’t like the law, go the legislature and change the law,” Foster said. “You cannot take the law into your own hands.”
Sheriff Foster said because it’s a violation of federal law, his agency’s hands are tied. He said the initial response from federal authorities wasn’t encouraging. He said he fears the move could be a test and could open the door to other churches doing something similar if they don’t see the federal government enforcing the law.
“Basically their attitude toward it when they first off haven’t done anything and second off because it’s such a small thing that it’s not a big deal,” Foster said.
Under federal law, places such as schools, churches, and hospitals are considered “sensitive locations,” in which normal enforcement procedures are not conducted. However, if an undocumented immigrant were to leave the premises of one of those places, federal agents could then take them into custody.
You can watch the press conference here on the WISTV Facebook page.