West Virginia church agrees to be a 'sanctuary' for immigrants

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP, WSAZ) — A church in West Virginia has pledged to be a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants who are targets of deportation.

WHSV's sister station, WSAZ, reports The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Huntington announced on Wednesday a pledge to open its doors to those facing deportation and discrimination, as it believes policies under past and current administrations have unfairly discriminated against immigrants.

"We have a long history of welcoming all, whether you're a refugee, an immigrant, whatever the case may be, and we have no intentions of stopping that," peace and social justice leader Justin Murdock said. "Jesus spent the early years of his life as a refugee, and we just believe it's the right thing to do."

A news release from the congregation says although they are not equipped to house those threatened by deportation long-term, the church will be a safe space in immediate danger as it helps find resources to assist those in need.

"We faithfully believe that all are welcome at the table of the lord," Minister Chana Dixon said. "That is part of being a Sanctuary Church."

"We've seen a lot of cases (of deportation) all around Huntington," Murdock said. "We haven't seen any right in Huntington yet, but we know it's only a matter of time."

According to the U.S. Department of Immigration, since February, more than 300 people have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted operations in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Many comments on social media have vehemently disagreed with the church's move, but Murdock says they're not doing anything in opposition to ICE.

"We will comply with anything ICE tells us to do," he said. "They have a policy about sensitive places, and that includes churches, that they will try to avoid those. We're just using their own policy to try to give people a place to come where they can have a safe place to seek support and legal help."

The church, which claims to be the oldest in the state, has a revival running through Sunday.