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KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Congregation Votes To Become A Sanctuary Church

The entrance to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego is pictured in this undated photo.
First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego
The entrance to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego is pictured in this undated photo.
San Diego Congregation Votes To Become A Sanctuary Church
San Diego Congregation Vote To Become A Sanctuary Church GUEST:Rev. Kathleen Owens, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego

This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. As California comes under increasing scrutiny under its new sanctuary state laws, San Diego churches announcing it status as a sanctuary congregation. Leaders of the first Universalist Church in Hillcrest say the church will support immigrants under threat of deportation. They also pledged to work towards the larger goal of comprehensive immigration reform. Joining me is Reverend Kathleen Owens. Welcome to the program. >> Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here. >> What exactly is your church willing to do to protect immigrants from deportation? >> Well, we have already been involved with the immigrant community in numerous ways. This vote to become a sanctuary congregation is just another tool in our efforts to aid people who are here because, they are seeking a better way of life up to and including having them be on our campus at the Hillcrest campus to seek a time for their case to go before the courts. It is a process by which they would live here. 24 seven, we would offer them their basic needs. And necessities, to allow their attorneys to work their case through the system. >> So, this extends to physically allowing people on the church property as a sort of shield against deportation is that right? >> That is right. There has been a practice within immigration and customs enforcement's that they would not breach of sensitive areas including churches, schools, and hospitals. And so, we will become one of those places that will house, physically houses someone, or a small family will already have an active order of deportation and this century tool -- sanctuary tool is to help slow down the deportation process in order that the case can be heard before an immigration judge. >> How did your church come to this decision Reverend? >> Well, a lot of soul-searching, a lot of conversation and education we are not about wanting to break laws, but we are wanting to see values that we gave service to in this country practice in action. So, we believe and think that justice and equity and compassion should be a part of our human relationships with one another. >> One of the concerns about so-called sanctuary laws in California and elsewhere has to do with whether or not they shield people who are actually criminals. Not simply because they are living in the country illegally but because they broke in the law. How will you screen people to make sure that that is not what your church is doing? >> We are looking to house people and especially folks let's say who are in the DACA protection program who may be aging out. So, we will have a subcommittee made up of members of our church, our community partners, people who have a clean record other than they are here without proper documentation. So, we are not interested in people who have charges because they have been caught with drugs or, have broken other laws. We are hoping, that this sanctuary act will be yet another faith community saying Congress, fix this broken immigration system. >> I have been speaking with Reverend Kathleen Owens of the first Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego and Reverend Owens, thank you. >> Thank you so much.

As California comes under increasing scrutiny from the Department of Justice for its new sanctuary state laws, a San Diego church has announced its status as a sanctuary congregation. Leaders of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego said the church will support immigrants under threat of deportation. They also pledged to work toward the larger goal of comprehensive immigration reform.

RELATED: Trump Administration Sues California Over Sanctuary Laws

Church leaders said they first started talking about becoming a sanctuary congregation following the Trump administration announcement in September that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This week congregants voted 93 percent in favor of becoming a sanctuary congregation.

Reverend Kathleen Owens, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, discusses what a sanctuary congregation can do to help immigrants facing deportation.