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How can Phoenix church offer refuge for people going to be deported?

A former office in Shadow Rock Church in Phoenix now serves as a bedroom for immigrants seeking sanctuary. (Cronkite News Photo/Taryn Martin)
LISTEN: How can Phoenix church offer refuge for people going to be deported?

PHOENIX — After a Phoenix church again offered to shelter a man scheduled for deportation, some began to wonder how religion can prevent someone from being lawfully removed from the United States.

The answer is a little complicated, but can basically be boiled down to one issue: morality.

Ken Heintzelman, the pastor of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ near Thunderbird Road and Seventh Street, has offered sanctuary to several undocumented immigrants who were going to be deported.

Some of them have lived at the church for years.

Heintzelman said there are two ways to look at every immigrant’s case, including that of Jesus Berrones, who sought refuge at the church on Friday.

“On the one hand, you can say he’s been deported twice,” he said. “That is illegal reentry into the country. I understand that language.

“I think another way of looking at it is to say, ‘Here’s a father that is determined to be with his family, to take care of his family and especially to be here for his child, who is struggling for his life with cancer.'”

Related: ICE issues stay for man who sought refuge at Phoenix church

Heintzelman said the church sees offering some people refuge as the right thing to do.

“Sometimes, there are higher laws, higher principles of compassion and love that more legalistic minds can’t quite get their heads wrapped around,” he said.

Heintzelman said the sanctuary policies allow immigrants to experience important moments with family and friends without too much fear of being removed from the country.

“Their family can come and be with them,” he said. “They have cookouts together, the prepare meals, they celebrate Christmas, they celebrate birthdays. If they were deported, they aren’t able to do that.”

However, that doesn’t mean people are just protected willy-nilly. Heintzelman said those offered sanctuary must be an immediate deportation risk, have an attorney with an actionable plan in place and, should they have a criminal history, inform the church.

“The spirit of it is one thing, the practical application is quite another, but we’ll listen to all the stories that come to us,” he said.

While it would seem logical that enforcement agents could walk into any public place and arrest an immigrant for deportation purposes. While that is the case, the agency has certain places it would prefer to avoid.

Related: Relationship between ICE, immigrants at sanctuaries

ICE has long instructed its agents to avoid making arrests in so-called “sensitive areas,” such as churches, schools and hospitals, unless specific circumstances are met.

For agents to go into the aforementioned areas, there must be imminent danger to life and/or property, other law enforcement actions led ICE to the location or ICE had received prior approval from a designated supervisory official.

Enrique Lucero, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Phoenix, told KTAR News 92.3 FM last year that the agency has made an arrest inside of an Arizona church after the immigrant called to surrender. He said the agency could do it again, but only under extenuating circumstances.

“It’s a possibility,” he said. “It’s just highly unlikely.”

KTAR News’ Kathy Cline and Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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