Minnesota churches get ready to become sanctuaries for immigrants

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About 15 congregations across Minnesota are preparing their churches for people to live there long-term as "sanctuary churches."

These religious institutions have committed to housing undocumented immigrants in order to shield them from deportation. They're relying on a federal policy not to make arrests in "sensitive" places like churches unless absolutely necessary, although there is no law blocking officials from doing so.

The effort is being organized by the religious network ISAIAH, which has also enlisted congregations to provide support to immigrants facing deportation.

One of these sanctuary churches undergoing preparations is the Linden Hills United Church of Christ in Minneapolis. The Rev. Eliot Howard committed to being a refuge in November. It was the first decision he had ever made without first consulting his congregation.

"I personally felt the tug of conscience and faith and got out ahead of things by declaring Linden Hills church a sanctuary congregation," he told MPR News' Cathy Wurzer. He had heard stories from teachers in the congregation about Latino students afraid to go to school or worried for their parents' safety. "That, frankly, overruled the decisions and attention to process," he said.

The congregation officially voted — though not unanimously — this past Sunday to become a sanctuary church.

Linden Hills church will undergo a few renovations to make it ready to house immigrants, should the need arise.

"We have quite a bit of work to do to make it a hospitable space," Howard said.

Click on the audio player above to hear more.

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