Answering the call to take care of the stranger among us, the Metropolitan New York Synod declared itself a sanctuary synod and a welcoming synod in the ELCA´'s AMMPARO Network. The word “amparo,” in Spanish, means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage. The ELCA’s strategy to Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) was envisioned after witnessing the plight of children who were, and continue to be forced to flee their communities because of complex and interrelated reasons, including chronic violence, poverty, environmental displacement and lack of opportunities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. At its March meeting, the synod council once again answered a call to care for migrant minors in our synod, by establishing our synod’s Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry.
The Sanctuary/AMMPARO Ministry will:
- attempt to provide weekly Word/Sacrament ministry and pastoral care to minors in immigration detention centers in our synod
- lead and coordinate participation by members of this synod in the weekly Jericho Walk around Federal Plaza
- create a Sanctuary Youth Group that coordinates monthly outings with minors in detention
- organize trainings throughout our Synod pertaining to becoming foster parents and/or guardians to young adults and minors who are released from custody
- generate a list of housing availabilities for teenagers and young adults released from custody
- coordinate with the ELCA AMMPARO network
- and recommend and coordinate opportunities for the Synod to engage in immigration-related public policy
Now, this may seem like a daunting list, which is why the bishop has appointed a Sanctuary Ministry Team to oversee and make this come to life. The team will work in collaboration with the Assistant to the Bishop for Global and Multicultural Mission and includes The Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, The Rev. Heidi Neumark, and Christopher Vergara, and is contracting The Rev. Fabian Arias as the Sanctuary Ministry Coordinator.
To provide the proper resources to do this work, the synod council created the Sanctuary Ministry Fund. The monies will be used to fund this ministry but also to pay for bonds to release migrant minors from detention and to help pay for fees associated with minors applying for asylum. Understanding that the need is great and the fund is not unlimited, we have decided to focus our efforts on minors, specifically 21-year-olds and younger. As we try to be intersectional in our work, when we are able, we will focus our efforts on those who are doubly marginalized by our unjust immigration system, single mothers, queer persons, indigenous people, etc. The synod has already paid the bonds to release three migrant minors from detention and is in the process to pay the asylum processing fees for an eight-year-old girl who is being separated from her mother, who has already been granted asylum.
Regarding the Sanctuary Youth Group, Pastor Arias worked for weeks to schedule the first outing with children from the Cayuga Center, and we are excited to say that we had our first outings on May 3rd and May 4th. On May 3, and in partnership with the Office of the Mayor’s Center for Faith and Community Partnerships Community Affairs Unit, we took 50 unaccompanied migrant minors rock climbing at The Cliff in Long Island City. On Saturday, May 4, in partnership with the Consulate of El Salvador, we held a field day on Randall’s Island, led by the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club.
The Sanctuary Team continues to work to get permission to get access to the Children’s Village detention center, where we hope to provide weekly pastoral care to the children being held there. As faith-based organizations continue to lead in fighting against our inhumane immigration system, faith leaders and organizations are finding it harder than before to gain access into these centers.
As to participation in the weekly Jericho Walks, they are scheduled to be on the agenda of the next dean's meeting. The plan is to get one conference to sign up per week, to bring roster and lay leaders to participate. Hopefully, this is something in which we can maintain a strong presence by our synod, and a first step in helping our pastors begin to begin to learn and think about these issues.
As part of our ministry for the synod, Pastor Arias has found a group of lawyers who are willing to work with people on their immigration issues. They will be setting up a MNYS Immigration Legal Clinic and will keep regular clinic hours on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evenings at Sion-Saint Peter’s Church, Manhattan, for now. However, if a congregation or conference would like to set up a pop-up special clinic at their site. The attorneys will work to coordinate to make that happen.
As part of their work, this ministry advises the synod on actions to take within the realm of immigration. They have been asked to join and recommend that the synod join an amicus coalition of faith-based groups against building a wall on the southern border. The firm, Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler, has been asked to draft an amicus brief on behalf of faith-affiliated groups in support of the State of California’s motion for a preliminary injunction barring the federal government from diverting funds from the Department of Defense and the Department of Treasury toward construction of a wall on the southern border. Citing our moral and religious objections, we have signed onto the brief.
While only having been formed recently, our Sanctuary Ministry has been very busy at work, and we look forward to hearing about its future efforts and how we can all participate.