Newberry, SC (WLTX) — A Newberry church says it will offer sanctuary for undocumented immigrants fighting deportation, making it the first 'sanctuary church' in South Carolina.
Clayton Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Newberry announced their plans officially at a news conference Tuesday. They said they wanted to get their reasoning for the decision out there before other people heard about what they were doing and perhaps reached the wrong conclusion.
"It is our intention to offer sanctuary to a few carefully chosen individuals from the immigrant community who have been ordered deported and who we feel have not received the full benefit of due process of the law," said Michelle Robinson, the minister of the church.
She said the church will help the immigrants navigate the legal system with the goal being to overturn their deportation order. The immigrants will live in the fellowship hall.
"There is no group of people in this country being treated with less regard for their basic human dignity than the immigrant community," said Sam Stone, board chair of Clayton Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Newberry.
"Our faith affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person and asks us to challenge injustice with courage," Stone says.
The church is also challenging political leaders to "create an immigration policy that is not fear-based, but which seeks to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves."
News19 reached out to South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, who's an outspoken critic of sanctuary cities, and has called for legislation to ban them from occurring in South Carolina. His spokesman, Bryan Symmes, said, "Nobody has been a greater advocate for religious freedom than Governor McMaster, but equally as important is every citizen’s responsibility to respect the rule of law. Thanks to Governor McMaster’s leadership, there will never be a sanctuary city in South Carolina, and a few people in Newberry aren’t going to change that.
The church would operate its sanctuary under an Immigration and Customs Enforcement general policy that exempts enforcement activity from happening in 'sensitive locations.'
The locations include places of worship, schools, hospitals, public demonstrations, and civil and religious ceremonies.
However, there are exemptions to the policy, including if special circumstances exist or if an agency superior approves the action, according to ICE. Meaning, with prior approval, ICE agents could possibly carry out enforcement actions inside church grounds.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said he would do nothing to impede federal law enforcement from enforcing federal law.
"We don't believe they can provide sanctuary. We've contacted ICE, we've contacted other federal law enforcement agencies about this, they're aware of it. What they do with it, I'm not aware," Foster said on Tuesday.
But the Sheriff said he would do everything in his agency's power to protect the church from people trying to take the law into their own hands, like they would for any citizen or property.
"We'll do the best we can to protect them from that. We will not protect them from violating the law. We're going to work with the federal government to enforce the law," Foster continued.
Foster also told WLTX he is not against immigration, saying his adopted son is from Central America and a naturalized citizen, but said he is against illegal immigration.
"I spent countless hours and countless dollars having that child become a United States citizen," Foster said.