Eleazar Misael Perez Cabrera sleeps in the music room at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in north Phoenix.
Spiral notebooks lean between shelving cubes along one wall. Black and tan filing cabinets line another. A piano stands opposite Cabrera’s twin bed.
He has stayed there since Nov. 17.
The church has become his home, his sanctuary. But for how much longer? He shrugs. The 31-year-old Guatemalan immigrant knows this at least: He is safe.
Cabrera and Shadow Rock Church are part of a growing movement of activist congregation leaders who believe the United States has violated human rights by deporting millions of immigrants to unsafe countries and separating families.
They have opened spare rooms, kitchens and bathrooms to immigrants who fear deportation and to pressure authorities to pass reform that provides more comprehensive paths to citizenship.
And, generally, those immigrants are safe from deportation as long as they don’t leave the church. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy that discourages agents from conducting arrests at places of worship, schools or hospitals.
Church leaders said the Sanctuary 2014 movement was spawned by Congress’ inability to pass reform.
Noel Andersen, grass-roots coordinator for immigrants’ rights for Church World Service, said the sanctuary movement will play a critical role following President Barack Obama’s executive action announced in November as legal experts decipher who is included in the deferred-action program and as church leaders push for protection for more individuals who don’t qualify, like Cabrera.
The program includes immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years, have a child who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and pass a criminal background check.
But some clergy say the move doesn’t go far enough and they are fed up.
“Some of us as faith leaders have said enough is enough. If they won’t hear our letters, e-mails and phone calls, maybe it is an act of resistance they’ll hear,” said Pastor James Pennington of First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Phoenix. “We didn’t really have a choice. That’s our faith-given responsibility.”
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Caitlin McGlade, The Republic