Wyoming church to become sanctuary amidst ICE arrests

Posted at 6:26 PM, Mar 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-20 18:26:48-04

WYOMING, Mich. -- A church in Wyoming will become one of the first in West Michigan to be a sanctuary for people who are undocumented, as ICE raids continue to spark arrests nationwide.

"I'm a dreamer," said Reverend Justo Gonzalez II, Southwest Area Minister for United Church of Christ. "And that’s my role as a visionary, is to help people dream."

With the help of the community, Rev. Gonzalez resurrected Ministerios Rios De Agua Viva, United Church of Christ, on Havana Avenue SW in Wyoming. It was an abandoned building only a few months ago, but now holds service and is preparing to become a sanctuary.

"I know what my focus is, I know what I’m called to," said Rev. Gonzalez. "ICE has a job to do, they can do it any place other than within the four walls of this building."

Community members continue to donate their time, money and expertise: for instance, replacing the church's industrial kitchen's garbage disposal, and installing a shower. The upstairs' empty rooms are being transformed into living quarters and private family rooms for 20.

"Someone has to stand up," said Rev. Gonzalez, "We don’t care about your country of origin."

"We’re going to provide a safe and sacred space that if you feel threatened or harassed by ICE, or fearful of being out in the community, that you know there is light in the midst of our community and that we’re shining it."

Despite ICE arresting more people last year than the previous three years combined, Rev. Gonzalez says any work to arrest and detain stops at the doors of this church.

"What I have committed to publicly and will state publicly anywhere is ICE is not coming in my building," said Rev. Gonzalez.

"They can break down a door if they choose to, we’re not opening it. They can tear down a door if they want to, we’ll film them, but this is holy and sacred ground. I, and several of my congregation, are willing to put our lives and our bodies on the line, because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the just thing to do."

Currently, Homeland Security continues to follow its Sensitive Locations Policy, meaning ICE generally avoids enforcement at places identified as sensitive locations, including: places of worship, schools, healthcare facilities and public rallies.