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Local church to provide sanctuary for immigrants facing possible deportation

Local church to provide sanctuary for immigrants facing possible deportation. // WSBT 22

A local church is prepared to provide a safe place for local immigrants facing possible deportation.

The plan has been in the works since last summer, but it's taken on a new meaning since a private company announced plans to build an immigration detention facility in Elkhart County.

They plan to use a house that's part of the church property.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church in Elkhart has a pre-fab home they use for classes.

But if they need to, the house can quickly become a home for a local immigrant seeking sanctuary.

"When immigration laws started getting stricter and immigration laws started changing, it became a national area of importance for us to look at," said Reverend Amy Debeck, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Debeck said after several meetings with her congregation, they decided to become a safe place for those at risk for deportation.

Debeck said being a sanctuary church is not about hiding people from authorities. In fact, they plan to let the public know who's seeking sanctuary.

"Because when a person or family decides along with their immigration attorney that sanctuary is right for them, they are becoming a representative for immigrants everywhere who are going to continue to give to their community and their community is going to help them through it," said Debeck.

Julia Schmidt is the coordinator for the Elkhart Goshen Sanctuary Coalition.

She said those seeking sanctuary in a church have an attorney who thinks their case has a chance of winning.

“That person will live in the church where they are safe. While the lawyer works in the case to find them a legal way to stay in the country," said Schmidt.

That individual will not be allowed to leave the church until their case is resolved.

If they do, they could be arrested and deported.

Schmidt says there is a lot of fear in the community right now.

That's why she says more churches should come together and help provide sanctuary.

"It gives the community a sense of safety and a sense of hope that they know there are people out there who want to help and will help them to be able to stay here in this country and who care about them," said Schmidt.

Immigration officials could legally go onto the church property to arrest people, although the federal agency has said it would avoid doing that in places like schools, hospitals and churches.

Schmidt said she does not have anyone who is in sanctuary or transitioning into sanctuary. But when they do she believes by sharing their story, more people will show their support.

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