As President Trump vows to crack down on undocumented immigration and step up deportations, some Minnesota religious leaders are preparing to offer immigrants shelter in their places of worship. Their hope is that giving immigrants sanctuary will shield them, at least temporarily, from being removed from the country.
House of Hope Lutheran Church is an unadorned beige building in New Hope, a suburb northwest of Minneapolis.
Inside, Pastor Mark Vinge envisions wood-paneled storage rooms transformed into bedrooms, playrooms and other spaces necessary for people staying in the church for an extended period.
The church is one of a few dozen houses of worship in the state that have volunteered to house immigrants facing possible deportation under the new administration's policies.
At first, not all leaders at the 700-member church were convinced that they should declare their church a sanctuary. There were concerns that the church wasn't set up for it, or that maybe the church should play a support role instead. But after vigorous discussions, the church council voted unanimously to become a sanctuary church.
Instead of being divided by politics, Vinge said the congregation rose above politics.
"I've talked about it in terms of a quote from Leviticus that talks about caring for the neighbor, providing shelter for those in need," Vinge said. "In particular, remember that you were once refugees yourself in a foreign country, and to offer hospitality to those in your own country."
The idea of sanctuary has its roots in ancient practices of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But it's also been used more recently. Some churches in Minnesota and other places gave sanctuary to Central American immigrants facing deportation in the 1980s.
But offering sanctuary means the church is also going to have to make lots of practical changes such as installing showers, and other basic services.
There's also the question of legal repercussions. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy of trying to avoid actions in "sensitive locations" like churches. But the agency ultimately has the legal right to arrest someone in a house of worship.
"We're hoping that they wouldn't, that they'd allow us to be a buffer, and give some time for things to get worked out or talked out if need be, so that families aren't torn apart or disrupted," Vinge said.
Since House of Hope publicly declared itself a sanctuary, the church has received regular calls from other houses of worship that are interested in doing the same. The sanctuary movement across the state is being spearheaded by the religious network ISAIAH.
"We hope that we never need to offer that kind of sanctuary," Vinge said. "We think being public about it is a way of raising consciousness for everyone about this issue. What's the need? Why is it real?"
JaNae' Bates, a United Church of Christ minister and the communications director at ISAIAH, said the most likely candidates for sanctuary would be immigrants who are going through all the steps to try to gain legal status, but may have run into a hurdle.
Sixteen houses of worship from different faiths have so far signed up to serve as sanctuaries in the state. Another 10 are serving as support. That could include financial assistance or supplies.
"So they are helping to provide sanctuary and also creating community for those in sanctuary," she said.
Bates said Minnesota isn't the only place where religious institutions are preparing to offer sanctuary. Hundreds of other congregations have declared their buildings sanctuary spaces across the country.
"There are people of faith in all 50 states who would say, 'No, we don't believe that there are any disposable people, and that human beings are sacred, and of immeasurable value to God, which means they're a value to us,'" Bates said.
And it's not only Christian churches that have signed on as sanctuaries.
At Shir Tikvah synagogue in Minneapolis, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz said the congregation's goal is to convert rooms in the synagogue, a former First Universalist church, into a space that's "as welcoming and homey as we can."
"The commandment, the mitzvah in the Hebrew bible, that is mentioned more than any other, is to welcome the stranger into your midst, to welcome the immigrant, the widow, the poor, the orphan," Latz said. "Religious people have a moral mandate to participate in sanctuary. It's our moral obligation. And if we don't, I just don't understand our purpose here on Earth."
The reason that refugees and immigrants come to the United States isn't that different from the reasons that drew many Americans' ancestors here, Latz said. His own in-laws barely escaped Germany at the dawn of World War II.
"I look at the pictures of those families on lifeboats coming out of Syria, and I think about the people who were on boats coming to the United States in World War II who were turned away," Latz said. "What we're doing is nothing compared to what they're going through looking for a better, decent life for themselves and their children."
Latz knows there are legal risks, and they expect to make mistakes. But he said offering sanctuary is the right thing to do.
"That's been our story. We've wandered. We've been immigrants. We have those stories of seeking refuge, of our own families passing by the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island," Latz said. "How can we turn around and forget where we came from?"
Since Shir Tikvah declared itself a sanctuary, people in the community have stepped forward with contributions to help set up the space and support the project.
"Knowing that there's hundreds and soon to be thousands of congregations from radically different denominations who disagree about a whole host of different theological issues, but who are joining together on this," Latz said, "that's inspiring. It's a reminder that people can come together for common purpose, and that gives me a lot of hope."
ISAIAH says there's no timeline for when these houses of worship will need to be ready to host immigrants, but that it could be any day. Faith leaders say their spaces will be ready when they're needed.