Credit: Matt Cohen

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Standing on the steps of the Foundry United Methodist Church on 16th Street NW, faith leaders and practitioners representing more than 60 congregations across the region announced a new network of sanctuary congregations throughout the D.C. area today.

In light of President Donald Trump‘s crackdown on immigration—which targets all undocumented immigrants, not just those convicted of violent crimes—congregations across the region have come together to provide support and solidarity to those  in danger of being detained and deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We have seen this administration’s demonizing and fear-driven rhetoric become concrete in ways that deny the humanity and dignity of our immigrant neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members,” said Foundry United pastor Ginger Gaines-Cirelli.

With the official launch of the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network, these places of worship aren’t just offering physical sanctuary to any immigrants who might need it, but also are providing support in the form of Know Your Rights workshops and crisis response hotlines.

At today’s press conference, representatives from 17 religious traditions—including Christians of several denominations, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims—stood together to show their solidarity. Afterward, more than 100 supporters marched down 16th Street to the White House in protest of Trump’s immigration agenda. Pastor William H. Lamar IV of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church said that he “[stands] on behalf of my ancestors, spiritual geniuses in this cruel space called America.”

People that ask: ‘Why do you stand with these people?’ Because black bodies have been assaulted since we first came to the States,” he said. “And they are continuously assaulted. What we know is that if we are silent when brown bodies are assaulted, when gay bodies are assaulted, when trans bodies are assaulted, when female bodies are assaulted, then all of us remain imprisoned and in bondage.”

Reports of ICE raids in sensitive locations—schools, churches, and hospitals—have increased dramatically since Trump took office. In the D.C. area, there was an ICE raid in early February outside the Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in Alexandria, which doubles as a hypothermia shelter. A group of men coming out of the church were swarmed by ICE officers, detained, and questioned for hours.

Hundreds of supporters of the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network march to the White House after todays announcement.s announcement. Credit: Matt Cohen

These raids have Veronica scared for herself and her family.

Veronica, who did not wish to share her last name for safety concerns, said through a translator that she fears she may be deported on April 4, despite the fact that her husband is a U.S. citizen and a veteran. She said she came to the U.S. 17 years ago so that her son Juan, who was born with a heart defect, could get a life-saving surgery that he couldn’t get in Mexico. “I made the only decision I could make to save the life of my son and come here for this surgery,” she said.

She’s terrified for what would happen to her family if she is deported, or if her family has to relocate to Mexico because of her immigration status. “My family will be destroyed if I am not here to take care of them,” she said. “My children don’t speak Spanish, and for them it would be another trauma to go to a country that they don’t know.”

With the DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network, Veronica has a support system in the event of an ICE raid—whether that means she goes into sanctuary, or asks people help her in the event ICE attempts to make an unlawful raid. 

“I want it to be very clear: This administration is currently targeting for deportation all undocumented immigrants,” said Richard Morales, a policy director at PICO National Network. “The threat to and the destruction of our immigrant families is real. There are thousands of individuals in the Washington, D.C. metro area alone that, under the Obama administration, were not a priority for deportation, but now find themselves in jeopardy of—or are actively being—separated from their families.”