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Faith Groups Gather in Hanover to Discuss Issue of ‘Sanctuary’

  • Quaker group Hanover Friends Meeting hosted a community forum on Saturday afternoon with other area religious groups to discuss immigration and sanctuaries. Rod Wendt, Former president of United Valley Interfaith Project, speaks in one of four breakout group discussions held - this one on ways of offering sanctuary. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Quaker group Hanover Friends Meeting hosted a community forum on Saturday afternoon with other area religious groups to discuss immigration and sanctuaries. Kate Semple Barta, attorney and founder of Welcoming All Nationalities Network (WANN),  talks about the legal rights pertaining to sanctuary. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Quaker group Hanover Friends Meeting hosted a community forum on Saturday afternoon with other area religious groups to discuss immigration and sanctuaries. Shawn Donovan discusses legal resources regarding sancutuary. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Quaker group Hanover Friends Meeting hosted a community forum on Saturday afternoon with other area religious groups to discuss immigration and sanctuaries. Member Kathleen Shepherd speaks about the local history of sanctuary. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, April 09, 2017

Hanover — Members of more than a dozen Upper Valley faith groups gathered on Saturday to discuss ways to support immigrants threatened by the current political climate, an effort that could involve offering sanctuary from deportation to undocumented immigrants.

None of the congregations have formally declared themselves “sanctuaries” — an ill-defined term that generally refers to policies of noncooperation with immigration authorities — save for the Hanover Friends Meeting, the Quaker society on Lebanon Street where the area congregations met for the whole-day forum.

The Quakers sponsored the event, which drew roughly 100 attendees, with the United Valley Interfaith Project, the Upper Valley Jewish Community and Al-Nur, the Muslim community at Dartmouth College.

The first half of the day at the Hanover Friends Meeting was devoted to an “immigrant voices” panel, where advocates and immigrants shared their experiences.

Eva Castillo, of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants, expressed disappointment both with the policies of President Donald Trump and of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who earned the nickname “deporter-in-chief” for the rise in forcible removals under his tenure.

“It is sad to see our communities living in fear,” Castillo said, adding of undocumented people, “Everybody uses and abuses them, but refuses to give them permanent status. Why? So that they can continue abusing them.”

“But it gives me hope that there are people like you who are willing (to help),” she said later. “We can’t do it alone.”

Castillo encouraged congregants to lobby their legislators and police, noting that New Hampshire State Police already are known for stopping nonwhite drivers and asking their immigration status.

She also urged those present to treat immigrants as equals, despite the difficulty of their situation, and to involve them in decision-making about policy debates.

“Let’s get out of rescue mode,” she said. “We’re all equals here.”

Then she repeated a mantra — “nothing about us without us” — that inspired another immigrant present to speak out.

Maria Ortiz, who said she had come here legally from Colombia, told the crowd that she felt “voiceless,” despite her apparent safety from deportation.

“Even talking here I feel a little afraid,” she said, as the people around her gave murmurs of encouragement. “Only the fact that I can be questioned based on the way I look is enough for me to feel my voice — down.”

Broadly speaking, a sanctuary — be it a city, state or religious congregation — is an entity that will not assist federal authorities in detaining or deporting noncitizens.

But as Kate Semple Barta, an immigration lawyer from Lyme, noted during a panel that afternoon, the term does not have a strict legal definition — an uncertainty that extends to the amount of legal liability people may take on when they provide sanctuary.

Semple Barta, who founded the area legal aid group Welcoming All Nationalities Network, or WANN, described her work to provide legal services for immigrants in the Upper Valley, a region that largely lacked them before her arrival.

Semple Barta has partnered with WISE, the Lebanon-based support center for survivors of gender-based violence, to make available resources for foreign-born women, some of whom have concurrent immigration and domestic violence issues. She also has run immigration law workshops in Lebanon public schools.

Ever since the Trump Administration began its ramp-up in immigration enforcement, she said, more cases have poured in than she can handle.

“It’s been off the hook,” she said. “My email and phone have been off the hook. It’s been hard to know how to respond because I’m only one person and I can’t take all those cases.”

More public school officials, including English-language teachers, have been contacting her to ask whether schools are immune from immigration raids. Semple Barta has had to tell them “no.”

A day earlier, Semple Barta also appeared at an immigration forum at Vermont Law School in Royalton, where she and a few other panelists addressed many of the same immigration issues, including sanctuary.

Also on Friday, the Hanover Friends Meeting hosted another gathering to discuss immigration, this one with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The civil rights and legal aid group is propagating a list of nine model policies that it wants state and local law enforcement to adopt.

They include a “no facilitation rule,” which would prevent nonfederal officials from arresting or detaining immigrants on behalf of federal immigration enforcers, and a “don’t ask rule,” under which local officers would not inquire about people’s immigration status.

During her Saturday talk, Semple Barta encouraged listeners to bring the list to local police chiefs, as well as to discuss with local school leaders their potential responses to visits from immigration officials.

“These are things that everybody can do,” she said.

Many other experts, including New Hampshire representatives for Catholic Charities and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., spoke to the history and implementation of sanctuary and offered ways to take action.

Maggie Fogarty, co-director of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, said Saturday’s meeting was part of a “wave” of congregations organizing around the state and in some cases talking about how they might “defy immoral laws.”

Toward the end of the day, attendees split into groups to discuss a range of next steps. In a conversation circle about ways to offer sanctuary, members of various congregations said they were unsure how their fellow church members back home would respond.

“Not everybody in those congregations are going to be comfortable with this,” Shawn Donovan, a Quaker who helped organize the event, acknowledged. “Some of them might have voted for Trump, and are happy about what he’s doing.”

Donovan said the Friends Meeting in the next few months was scheduled to discuss whether to offer space in its meetinghouse for immigrants to live. The Quakers already declared themselves a “sanctuary” congregation in December.

The worshippers in the circle, who represented at least six different Upper Valley congregations, agreed to go back to their coreligionists and gauge their level of interest in sanctuary activities, whatever form they may take.

“What we can find out is, Is there energy?” said Rod Wendt of UVIP. “Is there energy in our communities?”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.