by Barrett Seaman –
Last September, threatened with deportation back to Ecuador, an undocumented family living in Westchester took up refuge at Dobbs Ferry’s South Presbyterian Church. Long active on behalf of progressive causes, the church’s congregation harbored the family for two days, until a judge issued a stay on ICE’s warrant to arrest them. They returned to their home in Ossining where they remain free.
Two days were about enough, it turns out, as the space the family was provided did not include a bathroom or shower. The congregation determined then that if they were to make a habit of providing sanctuary to immigrants under threat of deportation, they needed a proper apartment.
South Presbyterian does not hide its activist lamp under a bushel—and certainly not from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If an individual or a family suspected of living in the U.S. illegally takes up refuge at the Church, located on South Broadway opposite Clinton Avenue in the village, agents will know where to go to find them. All they have to do is read the large red banner, planted in front of the church, that reads: “IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES WELCOME.”
“Legally, there’s nothing to prevent ICE from coming in and dragging them out,” admitted Kay O’Keeffe, a member of South Church’s Solidarity and Social Change team. “But they need a signed warrant from a federal judge.” The parishioners and staff at the church know that and would be able to demand to see it. And the authorities would have to defend their actions before the press and the public.
Not everyone in town agrees with the church’s stance. Twice this year, according to Reverend Drew Paton, the pastor and a native of neighboring Irvington, similar banners were torn down in the dark of night. When it was replaced with the current one on Good Friday before Easter, it was in conjunction with the launching of a GoFundMe campaign whose aim was to raise $35,000 to build a proper bathroom on the church’s second floor next to the pastor’s office and modestly furnish sleeping quarters.
At the end of the first week, the fund, accessible at https://www.gofundme.com/f/pxw25-sanctuary-for-immigrants, had garnered more than $4,000.