Portland Faith and Immigrant Rights Leaders Respond to Immigration Enforcement

Immigrant Rights Leaders in Portland held a press conference Friday morning to respond to the new rules on immigration enforcement and the expansion of deportations.

Rev. W.J. Mark Knutson addresses the press.

Faith leaders from leading Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other organizations announced intentions to resist new federal immigration directives, which greatly expand the scope of unauthorized immigrants who are considered a priority for deportation.  The press conference, held at Augustana Lutheran Church, included representatives from the Albina Ministerial Alliance, VOZ, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, Causa, Familias en Accion, Jobs with Justice and other faith and immigrant rights groups

Participants discussed the growth of the Sanctuary Movement across the country and the intent to house immigrants fearful of deportation in congregational sanctuaries.  In 2014 there were six Sanctuary churches in the nation including Augustana Lutheran in Portland.  The Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice in Oregon began in 2006, and today the network is far larger and growing daily.  In Oregon hundreds of people have been attending Sanctuary organized by the network.  Cities and counties around the country, including Portland, have joined sanctuary efforts.  Oregon state law has long prohibited law enforcement involvement in immigration enforcement except where serious criminal activity is involved.

Francisco Aguirre speaking about the sanctuary movement at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland.
Andrea Williams

The Reverend W.J. Mark Knutson, Senior Pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church in northeast Portland introduced the speakers and addressed his church’s participation in the movement.  Augustana gained notoriety in 2016 when a refugee named Fransciso Aguirre, from El Salvador, sought sanctuary at the church after ICE surrounded his home in an effort to capture and deport him.  Having no warrant, Aguirre knew that they could not enter without his permission.  ICE cops were met by a large cadre of sanctuary supporters and eventually left, after which  Mr. Aguiree found safety in sanctuary provided by the church.

Aguirre, an immigrant rights activist and labor organizer, is believed to have been singled out for his political activity.  The case of Mr. Aguirre, who would likely be killed if he were to be deported to El Salvador, spurred a debate within the Lutheran church about their role in the sanctuary movement.  Portland’s Augustana Lutheran Church is now firmly committed to protecting the rights of immigrants, especially with the announcements of expanded enforcement under Trump.  Since the election, the anctuary movement has grown considerably.  There were 400 congregations involved in the sanctuary movement prior to Trump taking office.  Now the movement has over 800 faith groups on its side.  In nine major US cities there are 16 congregations that have offered to provide sanctuary housing accommodations.

Other speakers addressing the press Friday included Romeo Sosa from VOZ Workers Education Project, Andrea Williams of Causa, Kayse Jama from Unite Oregon.  Christan Palacios, a representative of Community Alliance of Tenants, also spoke.  She talked about the unique challenges faced by undocumented residents in the state.  Unauthorized aliens are sometimes taken advantage of by landlords who expect no retaliation.

Imam Mohammad Najieb

The broad coalition represented at the news conference featured speakers on the subjects of of racism, discrimination, and hate.  These included a Imam, Mohammad Najieb, from the Muslim Center of NE Portland, Jo Ann Hardesty of the NAACP, Shari Raider of Havurah Shalom, and a representative from Basic Rights Oregon.

Additional clergy in attendance were Rabbi Michael Cahana (Congregation Temple Beth Israel), Rev. T. Allen Bethel (Albina Ministerial Alliance and Pastor at Maranatha Church), and Rev. D. Leroy Haynes (Albina Ministerial Alliance and Allen Temple).

Also present were coalition representatives from Portland Jobs with Justice and Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice,