Faithful march in support of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants

OFFERING SANCTUARY: Singer David LaMotte leads signers of a petition in support of providing sanctuary for immigrants at risk of deportation. Photo by Dale Neal

Some believers are taking the religious commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” to heart and actively welcoming foreigners into their neighborhoods, even providing sanctuary against forced removals.

Hundreds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and other religious followers from across Western North Carolina took to the streets of Asheville on Thursday, March 16, in a peaceful march in support of undocumented immigrants anxious about roundups and deportations under the Trump administration.

“As Americans, we are dismayed. As people of faith, we are also committed to taking action,” says the Declaration of Solidarity by People of Faith in Western North Carolina unveiled in a news conference following the march.

“As Protestants, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims, Bahá’í, Pagans and others, we share at least two spiritual imperatives: to love our neighbors and to welcome those who come from far-off lands seeking shelter,” the petition states.

Some 1,775 people representing 133 congregations in 19 Western North Carolina counties had signed the online petition as of last week. Organizers said the petition at is open for more signatures.

“Love of neighbor as one’s self is fundamental to all our faiths.  Immigrants are our neighbors.  They belong to God, and we will rise to protect them and their families from unjust policies that target the most vulnerable,” said the Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss of Land of Sky United Church of Christ. Her congregation is the first in the area committed to providing short-term sanctuary, including housing and support to any immigrant afraid of deportation.

Other congregations are discerning whether to take that step, said Bill Ramsey of the Circle of Mercy Congregation and a Sanctuary WNC organizer.

The march started at First Congregational United Church of Christ on Oak Street around noon and wound through the streets of North Asheville, with a stop for a blessing at Beth Ha-Tephila Synagogue on Liberty Street.

“May the doors of our houses of worship welcome parents and children whose lives are at risk of being torn apart, may they be shelters from fear and anxiety, havens of hope and hospitality,” said Rabbi Batsheva Meiri.

Meiri said immigrant neighbors who wish to live here “contribute immeasurably to the culture, economy and community we all cherish.”

Marge Marsh, a retired Presbyterian minister, echoed the concern that stepped-up deportations would hurt the local economy. “Without these workers, lots of our local businesses, our service sector and agriculture would be devastated,” she said.

Marsh also worried that local law enforcement agencies would be stretched thin if they took on the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in rounding up longtime residents without proper documentation. “I don’t think that’s the job of the local police,” she said.

Marsh and her husband, Earl Thompson, also a retired minister, drove over from Givens Estate to join the peaceful procession on a brisk winter’s day under blue skies.

Thompson said he would like to see the city of Asheville take an official stand as a sanctuary city, even while Republican lawmakers in Raleigh introduced a bill last week that would ban municipalities from taking such actions.

“It’s a question of morality,” Thompson said.

The event encompassed more concerns than just Hispanic families. Marchers carried colorful posters depicting black and brown faces as well as a woman in a Muslim hijab. “We All Belong Here. We Will Defend Each Other,” the posters stated.

Basem Alkahlani carried his own hand-lettered placard: “My Family is not Evil, Mr. Trump!”

A Yemeni who has lived in Asheville the past two years, Alkahani, who has a green card, had been trying to get visas for his wife and daughter to join him, but they have been delayed by Trump’s executive orders that would temporarily ban travel from Yemen and other Muslim-majority countries.

Alkahlani had been invited by Christian friends to join the march in support of other immigrants.

The march culminated at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Asheville on Edwin Place, where more than 200 Sanctuary supporters filled the pews.

Jim Abbott, center, retired Episcopal priest, holds a poster supporting sanctuary for immigrants.
IN SUPPORT OF IMMIGRANTS: Jim Abbott, center, retired Episcopal priest, holds a poster supporting sanctuary for immigrants. Photo by Dale Neal

“President Trump’s executive order on enforcement rounds up immigrants, splits apart families, and deports contributing members of our community. As they step back into the shadows, we step up and speak out in solidarity,” Hendler-Voss told the crowd.

The declaration was read in Spanish and English by local clergy. Supporters said they will urge ICE agents to treat potential deportees with “dignity and respect, and not as criminals.”

They will also urge local cities and law enforcement agencies “to focus on keeping our communities safe, not on assisting ICE efforts to deport peaceable residents,” the declaration stated.

Miran Porrus of Nuestro Centro, a Hispanic community center in Hendersonville, accepted the sanctuary declaration with a fiery attack on U.S. government policies toward the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom came from Mexico and Central America, fleeing violence and seeking better lives for their families.

“The irony is that it is to the advantage of this country to have cheap labor of the immigrants, who under deceptive trade agreements like NAFTA, have had their own lands ravished,” Porrus said.

Such policies do nothing but “criminalize poverty,” she added.

North Carolina was home to some 350,000 undocumented immigrants in 2014, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

“Our declaration of solidarity means standing with black and brown bodies in the places where they suffer,” Hendler-Voss said. The sanctuary movement also means speaking out against policing that indiscriminately targets minorities, as well as pointing out disparities in housing, health and education that privilege white majorities, she said.

Clergy want to continue conversations with local officials and law enforcement on those issues.

Organizers said they did not know of any immigrants currently seeking local sanctuary, but “we want to be prepared,” said Aland Ramirez of CIMA, Companeros Immigrants de las Mountainas en Accion.

Sanctuary providers would receive a call from CIMA, saying, “We have a family who we are afraid will be split apart by deportation. Can they come and safely stay in your sanctuary?” said Hendler-Voss. “We would invite them in, provide around-the-clock companionship. We would take on responsibility taking their children to school. We would provide good food and warm fellowship.”

Land of Sky would provide two- to three-day sanctuary until other safe places could be found to provide indefinite stays.

Organizers expect their fight to continue beyond a petition drive and a peace march.

“Until our nation finds the political will to enact justice, a just comprehensive immigration reform, we are prepared to act,” Hendler-Voss said. “We will not be deterred from safeguarding the least of these in God’s house. We will love our neighbors as if they were our own families, our own children, our very selves.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Dale Neal
Neal is a veteran journalist covering the people and places of the planet from Western North Carolina to Pakistan. He is the author of two novels, "Cow Across America" and "The Half-Life of Home." He teaches fiction and narrative in the Lenoir-Rhyne Graduate Center of Asheville and runs workshops for the Great Smokies Writer's Program at UNCA. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. Follow me @dale_neal

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

4 thoughts on “Faithful march in support of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants

  1. Lulz

    LOL, either you have laws or you don’t. Nor can you pick and choose which ones to obey or not. so tread carefully communist. Because you’re in all reality calling for anarchy.

  2. Deplorable Infidel

    From 1925 until the 1960s there was NO immigration into the US. I bet most of this crowd does not have a clue about that. It is not out of reason to END ALL immigration now, for again the next 25-50 years. We have plenty of people here already and they will reproduce. Until we can weed out all the illegal criminals it’s time to halt ALL immigration for a time to be specified, or make entry law even harder. ncfire dot info will give you the details about all the child rapes by illegals in NC, that the media does not report.

    • Edison Carter

      You have no proof regarding your disgusting accusations and allegations. Please evolve. And by the way, what were the qualifications for your immigrant relatives to be allowed into this country? A quick medical exam and checking the hair on their heads heads for lice?

      • Deplorable Infidel

        what accusations? it’s time to ban all immigration NOW.

        WHY is America the only country in the world to allow such immigration ? We don’t need it. Don’t want it.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.