A local news station is reporting that four churches in the Syracuse, N.Y., area have joined together to provide “sanctuary” to illegal aliens. The Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition says that it “has formed to stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.”
According to Pastor Fred Daley, of All Saints Roman Catholic Church, “A person who would be fleeing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] would be able to live in sanctuary.” Pastor Daley also asserted that, “By tradition the government has never crossed the line into church grounds to break sanctuary.”
This is only the latest instance of a nationwide trend in which religious institutions harbor illegal aliens and interfere with efforts by Department of Homeland Security officials to enforce our nation’s immigration laws.
Of course, Pastor Daley should probably stick to theology and leave the law to those with the appropriate credentials. Here’s what he got wrong:
- The traditional English notion of sanctuary that is often cited by churches as the basis for their defiance of immigration law was banned by the English parliament in 1624.
- At the birth of the United States, religious sanctuary had been illegal in Britain for about 150 years and was never part of American law.
- Pursuant to 18 U.S. Code § 1324 harboring and transporting illegal aliens is a federal crime. Like the rest of U.S. penal law, it provides no exceptions for clergy.
- Church officials convicted of concealing, harboring, shielding from detection or transporting illegal aliens could face prison time and fines.
- Federal law enforcement agencies are under no obligation to refrain from enforcement activities in churches.
Modern religious institutions also tend to ignore the fact that the Medieval and Renaissance church was an independent sovereign that operated its own system of courts. Its properties, like modern embassies, were considered independent territory, free from royal regulation.
But here in the United States, where separation of church and state is enshrined in the First Amendment, religious institutions can make no such claim. And churches harboring illegal aliens are just private organizations interfering with the enforcement of federal law.
Rather than creating unnecessary conflict between religious leaders and immigration authorities, America’s churches should abandon the sanctuary illusion once and for all.