Sanctuary and CWS


by Jennie Belle

Church World Service is committed to serving the most vulnerable in our world. At the CWS Durham office, this means assisting refugees on the road to beginning a new life in the United States through legal services, assistance with housing, job training and placement, and English classes. However, there are other ways of helping those who are afraid of deportation and being separated from their families. Church World Service is one of the leaders in organizing the Sanctuary Movement, a coalition of faith groups and activists working in communities all across the country to stand in solidarity with and, when necessary, offer protection to immigrants facing detention and deportation in their communities. Just like CWS Durham’s Immigration Legal Services works to help people remain in this country legally and reunite families, the Sanctuary Movement also works to stop individual deportations and to demonstrate against mass deportations and detention.

Sanctuary is a way to be in solidarity with the undocumented community by creating safe spaces for the prophetic voices of immigrant leaders to be lifted up as we together confront unjust laws. A church that declares itself a Sanctuary congregation is one willing to engage on a spectrum of solidarity actions including welcoming undocumented people, advocating to help stop deportations, assisting with legal clinics, and physically sheltering an immigrant in danger of immediate deportation. Some churches may choose to offer literal protection by using their status as a “sensitive location” to be a literal sanctuary that ICE will not enter into. Public Sanctuary happens when a person facing imminent deportation enters a sensitive location (school, place of worship, or hospital) and declares his/her intent to remain there while fighting any order of removal through a public media campaign.

Currently, 49 people (including children) are living in public Sanctuary, and over 1500 congregations from many denominations have declared their intent to provide Sanctuary. Of those 49, 4 are in churches in North Carolina: Juana Tobar Ortega in Greensboro, Eliseo Jimenez in Raleigh, Jose Chicas in Durham, and Rosa Cruz in Chapel Hill. These courageous leaders are sacrificing their freedom to fight for a fair trial and be able to stay with their families in North Carolina. At Church World Service, we support these leaders by being conveners of the North Carolina Sanctuary Coalition. Coalition is a statewide network of congregations who pledge their time, energy, and resources to support immigrants in our communities by offering physical sanctuary, emotional support, and persistent advocacy until we achieve comprehensive immigration reform and justice for all. This growing coalition pledges to stand against unjust immigration policies that needlessly harm and cruelly separate families, neighbors and friends.

We are living in a moment of crisis that provides an opportunity for local governments, schools, health centers, and faith communities to dedicate themselves to building a “beloved community” that assures justice for all. The actions of these congregations and courageous sanctuary leaders are changing that narrative, and now North Carolina is becoming known as a leader in the faith- based movement of solidarity and hospitality that we call Sanctuary. These times also call for more resources and support from as many people as possible to help strengthen our capacity to create Sanctuary spaces, outreach to new congregations, and build new coalitions. If you want to become involved with the Sanctuary Movement, visit to learn more about the Sanctuary cases in North Carolina and how you can help, or visit to learn more about the Sanctuary Movement in general.


Jennie works with CWS as a community organizer for the Immigration and Refugee Program. She is based in Durham, NC.