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What is sanctuary?
Sanctuary is an ancient tradition of providing asylum. For our purposes, the term is used to describe the protection in a place of worship of immigrants who are facing deportation while they pursue legal avenues to prevent their removal.
Why offer sanctuary?
Our Jewish history and commitment to racial justice call us to help people who are under attack. We know from our own history that laws and legal authorities can be cruel and unjust and that the bravery of a few can save the lives of many. We are acutely aware of the fact that some of us would not be here today if people had not stepped forward to shelter our family members.
Providing sanctuary aligns our actions and our values and helps us live into our mission as a Jewish community committed to justice for everyone. Immigrants of color who live and work in our community are being targeted by the federal government. Their lives and well-being are threatened. They are unjustly pulled from their jobs and homes, held for indefinite periods of time under inhumane conditions, and deported into dangerous situations far from their families and support networks. As leaders on immigration and human rights issues, we of Kehilla do what we can to promote justice in the community in which we live.
Our values inspire us to use our privilege to help others, and our membership has demonstrated that supporting immigrants and advocating for human rights are communal priorities. More than 100 Kehilla members are actively involved in immigrant justice activities. As social justice leader Reverend Heber Brown said, we must “bend our privilege towards justice.”
We have the power to change people’s hearts and minds. We hope that our actions will encourage others to join us in building a growing movement for just immigration policies.
Who else is offering sanctuary?
More than 800 congregations in the US, and 42 in the greater Bay Area, have publicly declared sanctuary. Some of these congregations offer physical sanctuary in their buildings, and others extend different types of support. A recent New York Times article reported that in 2017, 39 immigrants sought sanctuary, and, as of March 28, 2018, 12 more have done so.
We know of two other Jewish congregations in Northern California that offer physical sanctuary, B’nai Israel in Sacramento and Shir Hadash in Los Gatos.
What support do we have outside of Kehilla?
Kehilla is part of a very active, vibrant network of congregations in the Bay Area that do immigrant justice and sanctuary work, including the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Oakland Community Organizations and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. Kehilla has been a member of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant since the 1980s.
Has the Kehilla leadership carefully considered the logistics and potential challenges of providing sanctuary?
Kehilla has been a sanctuary congregation since the 1980’s and reaffirmed its commitment in November of 2016. Since then, the Kehilla Immigration Committee, the Board of Trustees, the spiritual Leaders and executive Director have intensively considered the many issues related to providing sanctuary in our building and concluded that it is both feasible and important to fulfilling our mission.
What actions has the leadership taken so far?
The Sanctuary Task Force, a group composed of Kehilla Immigration Committee members, Kehilla Board of Trustees members and our senior rabbi, took the following actions:
• Consulted with specialized pro bono lawyers regarding insurance issues and the potential of federal or local legal liability.
• Engaged with other congregations in the Bay Area and beyond that provide physical sanctuary to learn about their processes and experiences.
• Consulted with architects and contractors regarding upgrades that might be needed in our building.
• Met with our executive director, staff and Kehilla School director regarding possible impacts.
The Kehilla Board of Trustees, spiritual leaders and executive director have all voiced their support for providing sanctuary and engaging the Kehilla community in this effort.
Are there laws related to providing sanctuary that might impact Kehilla?
There are federal laws related to harboring undocumented immigrants. Courts have interpreted these laws in different ways. Based on the few instances in the 1980’s in which legal action was taken against religious institutions providing sanctuary, such an action would most likely target our spiritual leaders and possibly our executive director. Both parties are prepared and willing to assume this risk, which they think is quite low. If any legal action were to be taken, it is likely that pro bono representation would be available.
Have sanctuary congregations experienced political/legal repercussions?
In the 1980s, sixteen clergy and lay faith leaders were prosecuted for harboring. These cases also included smuggling undocumented individuals into the US or across state lines. Ultimately, six were convicted, and none served time. Currently, there is a harboring and human smuggling case in progress against a worker from a humanitarian group in Tucson, Arizona who has been accused of providing food, water and shelter and transportation to two men who crossed a very perilous desert and entered the US without documents.
How will a person or family who needs sanctuary be referred to Kehilla?
Sanctuary will be provided to an undocumented immigrant or family that is being threatened with deportation but still has legal recourse to fight to stay in the United States. Candidates for sanctuary will be referred to us by a lawyer from a legal non-profit organization, such as Centro Legal de la Raza, who is working with an immigrant fighting to avoid deportation.
How will sanctuary candidates be screened?
We will form a Guest Advisory Committee, which will include our senior rabbi, executive director and members of the Sanctuary Task Force. This committee will develop criteria for guests, determine the number of people we can house, and create an agreement, policies and guidelines for those staying in our building. This information will be shared with our legal partners ahead of time.
When someone who meets our criteria is identified, the Guest Advisory Committee, will review information on the candidate and make a final decision. If possible, we will introduce the person to the congregation prior to their entering sanctuary at Kehilla. This will be an opportunity for us to meet them and for them to see where and with whom they will be “living.” The safety of Kehilla community members, staff, guests and others who use Kehilla’s building will be paramount to approval of any guest.
What policies will we have in place to be sure that things run smoothly and that our space is well cared for?
The following are examples of the types of documents that the Guest Advisory Committee will create, leveraging materials provided from other organizations providing sanctuary:
• Criteria for guests
• Information on our criteria and policies for those who might refer someone to us
• Intake form
• Written agreement with guest/s
• Information to be provided to Kehilla members, school families, staff, tenants and others who use our building
• Volunteer recruitment, training and policies
• Protocols for:
• Use of kitchen and other parts of the building
• Interaction with media and the wider community
• Insuring the safety of our guests, including information and training on how to respond if ICE comes
• Security in the building
How long might someone be with us?
Individuals in sanctuary cannot leave the building until their case is resolved. This is a difficult situation, so the goal is for them to be with us for as short a time as possible. There are rare cases when someone has needed to be in sanctuary for over a year.
What room will be used for sleeping?
Miriam’s Well, a small room at the back of the Social Hall, currently used only for storage. It has a door that can be closed for privacy.
What about a shower?
Our executive director is working with architects and contractors to determine the best solution.
What about the use of the kitchen and other spaces?
The Guest Advisory Committee will develop guidelines for the use of the kitchen and other spaces.
Will there be costs to Kehilla?
Initial costs will be limited to upgrading Miriam’s Well and the bathroom. Once costs are determined, the Sanctuary Task Force, in collaboration with the Generosity Committee, will take the lead on fundraising. Efforts will be made to prevent any impact on Kehilla’s other fundraising goals. It is likely that donated materials and furnishings and volunteer labor will be available. Once a person or family is with us in sanctuary, any needs that they have for food and other items will be donated.
Many Bay Area congregations in our networks are committed to supporting sanctuary, even if they are not able to provide physical sanctuary. We will reach out to our allies to invite them to contribute resources and volunteers and to partner with us in supporting any immigrants who are sheltered at Kehilla.
Will there be an impact on Kehilla’s staff?
Volunteers will be organized by the Immigration Committee to assist guests with their needs and to minimize the impact on staff. The Immigration Committee will support the staff’s communication needs and provide a liaison from the team supporting the individual or family, particularly if there are language issues. Our school director and our teachers will receive support from the Sanctuary Task Force in talking with school parents.
Staff will be kept informed of all aspects of the program and specifically trained on how to manage guests and what to do in case ICE comes or the media visits. Our Executive Director expects the main impact to be on him and on clergy, who might have to deal with any controversy.
How will having someone in sanctuary affect Kehilla School?
Miriam’s Well is not a room used by the school. Specific policies will be developed for use of shared spaces during school hours. Providing sanctuary will provide an opportunity to educate school families about immigration and economic justice. Kehilla’s action will be discussed in the school and school families will likely be introduced to guests.
How will staff and others who use the building be prepared?
The Guest Advisory Committee will develop written policies and guidelines, hold any necessary trainings and post key information in the building. Staff and others who use the buildings will be kept apprised of who is in the building, who the liaison for the guest is in case questions arise, how to respond if ICE comes and who the spokespeople are who should be contacted if media visit.
What if there are questions or concerns from our neighbors?
We will publicly declare Kehilla a sanctuary congregation with a statement of intent to provide physical sanctuary and make a public statement each time that we begin sheltering an undocumented person/family. Being public enables us to voice our support for immigrant rights and continue to lead in this area of social justice.
We will continue our current efforts at neighborhood outreach, inviting neighbors in and insuring that they know who to contact with concerns and questions.
Sanctuary guidelines will include ways to make sure there will be minimal impact/disturbance related to guests being in our building. Since someone in sanctuary will not be leaving and entering the building, impact on neighbors will be virtually nonexistent.
What if this doesn’t work out?
There may be some unanticipated challenges that arise during this process. At any point, we have the opportunity to reassess and make changes or to stop what we are doing.
What if ICE comes to our building?
A 2011 “Sensitive Locations” memo by the Department of Homeland Security reaffirmed a decades-long policy treating houses of worship as locations that ICE should avoid entering without prior approval. Though this is not a binding rule, so far, ICE has abided by this guidance.
While ICE can enter public spaces in houses of worship, it cannot enter private spaces without a valid warrant signed by a federal judge.
The Guest Advisory Committee will develop protocols clarifying under what circumstances ICE will be allowed entrance to the building. The staff and others who use the building will be trained, and appropriate signage will be posted.
How will the Kehilla community be kept updated? What are the next steps? How soon could this happen?
There will be updates in Kol Kehilla and the Kehilla weekly emails.
May 2018 is a month of community engagement on the issue of sanctuary at Kehilla, and we hope to involve as much of the community as possible in learning and discussion.
Next steps will involve development of policies and guidelines, making any needed improvements in the building and recruiting and training volunteers to assist with potential guests. We will move forward with thoughtfulness and care, while cognizant of the fact that this is an urgent situation. We could potentially be ready to offer sanctuary sometime during the summer or early fall of 2018.
Might we provide shelter other than sanctuary?
During times that Kehilla Community Synagogue does not have someone in sanctuary, if an immigrant individual or family in Kehilla’s immigration network becomes homeless, Kehilla may, under the approval and agreements, policies and guidelines of the Guest Advisory Committee, provide them temporary shelter in Kehilla’s building.
How can I get my questions and concerns addressed?
Articles with additional information will be included in the April, May and June issues of Kol Kehilla.
You can attend the May 12th Sanctuary Shabbat and Community Conversation.
If you’re a school parent, you are invited to an information session on May 10th.
If you want to speak with someone individually, you can contact ImmigrationCommitteeChairs@kehillasynagogue.org and we will set up a time for you to have a conversation with a member of the Sanctuary Task Force.
Will there be volunteer needs? How can I get involved?
Volunteers are needed and welcome! To get involved, contact ImmigrationCommitteeChairs@kehillasynagogue.org.
Where can I get more information about sanctuary?
Video (2 min) from University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley: https://www.ulcberkeley.org/sanctuary/sanctuary_today-video-ft-the-chapel
Los Gatos synagogue, Shir Hadash, recently declared sanctuary: