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Denver Church Gives Sanctuary to Immigrant Mother Facing Deportation: “We Are Not Breaking Any Laws”

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We go to Denver to speak with Reverend Mike Morran, senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Denver, where an immigrant mother of four has has taken sanctuary to avoid deportation. “We believe that we are not breaking any laws by having her in the church,” Rev. Morran says. He describes how the church came to host Jeanette Vizguerra, and explains their protocol for how to respond to immigration agents if they come to arrest her.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Denver, where we’re joined by Reverend Mike Morran, the senior minister at that church, the First Unitarian church of Denver, where Jeanette Vizguerra has taken sanctuary.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Reverend Morran. Can you talk about your church’s decision to be a sanctuary church and to take in Jeanette and her family?

REV. MIKE MORRAN: I would be happy to. We began doing immigration justice work in earnest probably around 2012. At that time, we tried very hard to form alliances with groups that were already working in immigration justice around Denver. That included the American Friends Service Committee, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, El Centro Humanitario and other groups, Interfaith Alliance, Together Colorado and so on.

So, we had good relationships with those organizations, and we were approached by them, by the American Friends Service Committee and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, in particular, in January of 2014. They asked us if we would, as a congregation, offer sanctuary to someone that was facing deportation. It was a very short time frame that they had at that time. I think it was seven or 10 days. That was not enough time to poll the whole congregation, so the board of trustees took up the issue. They voted that they would bring someone into sanctuary and that we would inform and bring the rest of the congregation up to speed later.

It turned out that we did not need to do it at that time. That individual received a stay. But it began a conversation within our congregation for about five months. And we brought in guest speakers. I preached on this several times. We answered lots of questions about—for congregation members about the legal liability, about our legal representation we might need, what it would me for our church insurance, and the logistics of where they would stay within the building and many other kinds of questions. The congregation did vote as a whole congregation. We’re about 400 members. And the congregation did vote in May of that year that we would be a sanctuary congregation. And we were able to welcome Arturo Hernández García into sanctuary in October of that year.

AMY GOODMAN: I remember coming to your church to interview Arturo Hernández García—

REV. MIKE MORRAN: I remember you being there.

AMY GOODMAN: —who had taken refuge in 2015, undocumented immigrant who took refuge at the Unitarian church. And I asked him why he did that.

ARTURO HERNÁNDEZ GARCÍA: I am risk to deportation. October 21st, I have my final order for deportation. And the reason I’m coming here is because I want to fight my case.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell me what happened? How did you end up going into deportation proceedings? You had a tile business?

ARTURO HERNÁNDEZ GARCÍA: Yeah, I’m working on constructions, usually big constructions like apartments, 100, 200, 300 apartments, and hundreds of people working in there. And I had trouble with one person, and I have that discussion with him. And they called the police, and the police, they arrest me. And after that, immigration put—the hall, immigration hall.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Arturo Hernández García in 2015, and that was under President Obama. Now, Jeanette has come in with her family, and this is 2017. And you have the Trump administration threatening to cut off funding for any city that engages in sanctuary. What about churches? What do you face, Reverend Morran? I know that Jeanette has the support of the Jared Polis, who is the congressmember from the area, from Mayor Hancock, has gotten support from a number of public officials. In fact, I believe Jared Polis has introduced legislation that would protect her into the U.S. Congress.

REV. MIKE MORRAN: That’s correct. Yes, that’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do you face any sanction being a sanctuary church?

REV. MIKE MORRAN: Do I face sanctions? Um, we hope not. So, there is—there is a law about harboring fugitives, but the “harboring” definition includes an attempt to conceal, and we are not trying to conceal anything. In fact, we will tell anyone. We will—we will write a personal letter to President Trump about Jeanette Vizguerra and where she is living at the current time. So, we’re not—we believe we are not breaking any laws by having her in the church.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can ICE enter the church and rip her out?

REV. MIKE MORRAN: That’s an excellent question. So, under the Obama administration, there was a policy. It was not a law. It was just a policy that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had, that they would not come onto what were called sensitive properties. That was churches, schools, hospitals, places like that. They would not come onto those properties to make arrests. We believe that policy is still in place. We certainly counted on that when Arturo was staying with us. But, frankly, we have absolutely no idea if the Trump administration will continue that policy or if they will begin making arrests on schools, churches, hospital properties.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you willing to do to protect her? How far will the church go?

REV. MIKE MORRAN: Well, I mean, we’re certainly not going to get into any physical tussles with ICE agents if they show up at our congregation. We do have a protocol with the building itself, and it’s posted on the door for anyone who might answer the door if ICE comes knocking. And if ICE comes knocking, we will ask them if they have a warrant. And if they do not have a warrant, we will tell them they cannot come in. If they do have a warrant, we will ask to see it. We have an attorney that we are working with. We will fax that warrant to the attorney and ask ICE to wait while we do that. And if the attorney says the warrant is good, we will have to, at that point, legally let them in.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reverend Mike Morran, I want to thank you for being with us, senior minister at the First Unitarian church of Denver, where Jeanette Vizguerra is taking sanctuary, an immigrant mother of four.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, who is the new labor secretary nominee? Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Home,” music cover by Jorge Narvaez and his daughter Alexa. Jorge dedicated the song to his mother, who was deported to Mexico in 2007. He reunited with her in 2014. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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