Local congregations plan 'sanctuary' for immigrants, others

CINCINNATI -- About 20 local congregations have joined together to offer a safe space for immigrants who entered the country illegally, Muslims and other groups worried about deportations.

Those involved in the effort said Cincinnati has a history of helping those in need, going back to the Underground Railroad.

"There are people who are feeling afraid," Rev. Gail Greenwell of Christ Church Cathedral said.

At the Clifton Mosque, one can still see marks on the wall from when it was bombed more than 10 years ago. Now they want to help others feeling fear.

"To throw away human beings because they were born on a hunk of dirt I wasn't born on is ludicrous," Imam Ismaeel Chartier said.

The Clifton Mosque and the Christ Church Cathedral Downtown both said they'll provide safe spaces for any vulnerable people who need it. About 20 other congregations will support them by providing things like food and clothing.

"Sanctuary networks" like these have been popping up across the country, although no law exists to support them.

"There certainly is no legal protection for sanctuary congregations," Greenwell said.

University of Cincinnati anthropology professor Leila Rodriguez said immigration officials typically don't go after people in schools and churches.

"According to their policy, they're not supposed to conduct their actions in what are sensitive spaces," Rodriquez said.

Chartier said they didn't know how many people would take them up on the sanctuary offer.

"It could be nobody ever comes, and it could be 1,000 people come, and we have to be prepared for either one," Chartier said.

Even if it's never used, Rodriguez said the show of support might make a difference.

"I think the bigger concern is not that they're going to be deported, but how they're treated by their neighbors," Rodriguez said.

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