Congress: Sanctuary Cities Are Biblical, Don't Scapegoat Them

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.
Noel Castellanos of Chicago is the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association.

This week the Senate will vote on a bill that targets "sanctuary cities." Apart from the political calculations that underlie this vote, it is in part a response to the shooting death of Kate Steinle this summer in San Francisco.

Our hearts grieve deeply with Steinle's family. As parents of daughters, we cannot fathom the tragic loss her family is suffering.

As local and national advocates for immigrants and immigration, we want to extend our sympathies. But as Congress returns this week, we also want to speak on behalf of the Sanctuary movement, which has been scapegoated unfairly.

As Christian leaders it is important to share that the Sanctuary movement gets its roots from principles derived from the Bible, specifically in Numbers 35, which speaks to Cities of Refuge. The Cities of Refuge were God's response to the tragic fallibility of human law and justice in a fallen world. Over the centuries, the concept of Cities of Refuge has been utilized to respond to the predicament of a variety of people who could not get a fair hearing and appropriate punishment.

Whether in the case of slaves using the Underground Railroad or individual issues during other particular times of crisis, people facing cruel and unusual punishment have been protected by the doctrine of "Sanctuary," developed from the concept of the Cities of Refuge.

Almost every country in the world has some form of Sanctuary legislation.

For one of us (Noel), my experiences in San Francisco three decades ago shaped the direction of my life, forging a deep burden in me to attend to the struggles of immigrants seeking a better life in this country. After graduating from college in 1982, I moved to the Mission District, where I lived among thousands of immigrant men and women who had made their way to my adopted neighborhood from Central America, escaping war and extreme poverty. Much has changed in the past 30 years in one of the most dynamic and expensive cities of our nation, but it continues to be a city of refuge for many families who are trapped in our nation's broken immigration system.

As for the other (Alexia), I have experienced three Sanctuary initiatives: the Sanctuary Movement for Central American refugees, the New Sanctuary Movement for immigrant families facing potential separation as a result of our broken immigration system, and the Sanctuary City process in Los Angeles.

As a result of these efforts, I saw Christians and faith leaders come together to build upon the Sanctuary Movement by specifically sheltering and accompanying families unjustly facing separation through deportation as a result of illogical and inhumane laws.

We both experienced firsthand the impact of families separated by the broken immigration system and have actively worked with state and local government to make sure we are deporting only the true criminals in our midst.

Together we have seen this movement become instrumental in shaping law enforcement's relationship with communities, creating a greater sense of trust and safety.

We support Sanctuary initiatives, and we believe the most effective response to the suffering of individuals and families caused by outdated, ineffective immigration legislation is to address our broken immigration system.

At a time when anti-immigration rhetoric in the media is escalating alongside this tragic loss of a young woman at the hand of an undocumented immigrant, we need to work together with more commitment to replace our immigration laws with a process that works. In doing this we will make our communities more humane and morally just places to live.

Noel Castellanos is the CEO and president of the Christian Community Development Association. Rev. Alexia Salvatierra coordinates the Welcoming Congregations/Guardian Angels Network for the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.