Rep. Grijalva: Distinction Between Legal, Illegal Immigrants ‘Doesn’t Exist’

By Zoey DiMauro | September 26, 2014 | 4:13pm EDT

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) was one of 200 people, including eight Democratic members of Congress, arrested for blocking a main street near the U.S. Capitol during a pro-immigrant rally on Oct. 8, 2013. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com)-- Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said Wednesday that any distinction between illegal immigrants and those who obey U.S. laws and enter the country legally “doesn't exist.”

CNSNews asked the Arizona Democrat, who supports a movement by a growing number of churches to provide sanctuary for illegal aliens facing deportation, what he would say to those who entered the U.S. legally.

"That the issue here is about family," Grijalva replied. "That the issue here is that the people that are seeking the support and the protection of sanctuary are people that are hard-working, families, blended family many times, with citizens and children, and this is not about an issue of some people deserve it, some people don't.

“Quite frankly, the people that have gone through the immigration process and waited all those years are some of the most staunchest supporters, within those congregations, of the individuals that are being provided the protection,” Grijalva said during a press teleconference hosted by Church World Service.

"So it's not an either/or and it's not us versus them," he continued. "It's a human issue. And as somebody else said, these are people that have been part of ... these are kids that go to school with our kids, and these are people that work and pay taxes as we do.

"And so that distinction that you want to make doesn't exist."

"The sanctuary movement is a response to the lack of action," Grijalva continued. "To lead on this moral imperative is critical.

“Sanctuary would spare many families [from] deportation and [give] some the ability to be able to function and live in our society, something all these families have earned,” he added.

Following the example of a similar sanctuary movement in the 1980’s, 24 faith communities - including synagogues and mostly Protestant churches - have offered to harbor illegal aliens in cities such as Denver, Portland, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Sanctuary participants rely on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement  (ICE) policy that does not allow immigration officers to enter sensitive areas such as schools and churches.

“We’re fairly confident that they won't enter into the sacred space of a house of worship and we’re just hoping they continue to keep that promise,“ said the Rev. Alison Harrington, whose church, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, is part of the movement.

"After the President’s announcement on September 6th to, again, delay administrative relief to those at risk of deportation, faith bodies began to question the morality of waiting and bearing the daily loss of our brothers and sisters any longer,” said Rev. Gradye Parsons of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. who participated in the Sept. 24 teleconference.

Southside Presbyterian has a legal clinic that places immigrants facing imminent deportation in touch with the church authorities to gain sanctuary. Once the church votes, “we have a prayer service over them and welcome them into the physical space of the church,” said Harrington.

Rosa Robles Loreto, an illegal immigrant who has been living in the U.S. since 1999, has been staying at Southside Presbyterian with her husband and two sons since the order deporting her to Mexico arrived a month and a half ago.

“My goal is to be able to stay together with my sons and my husband who need me and to not separate our family,” Loreto said.  "My struggle goes further than from my immediate family, and it is a call and a national petition so that others can also have hope and establish their lives here, where we have already lived for so long."

Theresa Wagner, a representative from the Presbyterian Church, says that the participating churches are willing to break the federal harboring law for the sake of the illegal immigrants.

“There is a risk involved, but we all answer to a higher calling too, so that’s where the denomination stands on that issue,” she said.

“Theres a question as to whether or not they’re even breaking the law,” Wagner further explained. “Some circuits have said that the offence of harboring an individual occurs only when you attempt to conceal them, and the churches that are involved in this movement are by no means attempting to conceal anyone.

“However, there are other courts that have ruled that the mere provision of shelter is enough to have violated the harboring law,” she acknowledged.

Rabbi Linda Holtzman of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia defended her congregation's civil disobedience. "When we see an unjust law it needs to be disobeyed, and in the Jewish community, I think that's clearly clear,” she said.

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