IM4HI Vision

Five Years of Sanctuary: Lakeshore’s Congregational Partnership with IM4HI

By Rev. Dr. Allison Tanner, Pastor of Public Witness, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church.

Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church is an inclusive community of followers of Jesus who work to bless and heal our neighborhood. Grounded in a vision of justice, equality, and well-being for all, we work to embody beloved community in Oakland and the greater Bay Area. We recently celebrated our fifth anniversary as a Sanctuary congregation and our partnership with Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. Looking back, it has been an educational, energizing, and empowering experience that has allowed us to deepen our faith and commitment to immigrant justice. 

Our journey began in January of 2017. Days after the inauguration of President Trump, we gathered at a congregational meeting and shared deep concerns about the newly sanctioned racist and xenophobic attacks on our immigrant neighbors. The urgency of the moment stirred us, but we weren’t equipped to address the needs of those being attacked, exploited, and threatened with expulsion. We turned to Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI) for guidance.

Through IM4HI’s leadership, we began a process of assessing what it meant to provide sanctuary in this moment. We explored the avenues of education, advocacy, accompaniment, and freedom campaigns, all of which were important ways we could participate in this work. Our congregation wrestled with the idea of providing physical sanctuary in our congregation, due to lack of adequate facilities (e.g., showers or beds), as well as insurance concerns. We were thrilled to learn that there are a multitude of ways to engage in offering sanctuary and we were encouraged to pursue the avenues that matched what we could offer: big hearts, a willingness to learn, build relationships and engage in advocacy. In May of 2017, our congregation voted to become a Sanctuary Congregation and committed to the work of immigrant justice in ways that were appropriate for our congregational context.  We appointed a Sanctuary Working Group to lead the congregation in living out this commitment.

Welcome the Stranger, a foundational Biblical command, was the theme of our early commitment. As our government enacted racist bans and threatened raids, we learned how to band together in solidarity with immigrants for their full inclusion in this country. We started attending IM4HI monthly meetings to better understand what was happening and equip ourselves to address the needs of our community. This also allowed us to develop important relationships with other congregations on a similar journey. We started attending prayer vigils, listening to heartbreaking stories of those in detention, and praying for their release. After a few months, we accepted the invitation to lead a vigil outside the West County Detention Facility, offering our own sacred rituals of prayer, song, and commitment to justice. In addition, we traveled to Sacramento to advocate for the passage of SB54, limiting the power of ICE in California. Through our engagement with this bill, making calls, and joining the community advocating for immigrant justice, we felt personal pride in playing a small role in the passage of this legislation that provides a protective shield around immigrants in our state. 

The second year our commitment evolved to Loving our Immigrant Neighbors, a central command of Jesus applied specifically to our Oakland neighbors, ⅓ of whom are immigrants. We began cultivating relationships with immigrants seeking asylum, freedom from deportation, and full citizenship rights. IM4HI connected us to individuals who shared their stories in our congregation, engaging in freedom campaigns to advocate for people in detention and get to know their families.   We learned as a congregation how racist and xenophobic immigration policies and practices work to prevent our immigrant neighbors from accessing full citizenship rights. Lakeshore’s diverse membership is predominantly African American and Euro American. It was easy to connect the dots between exploitation and denial of rights of African Americans with what we were witnessing with black and brown immigrants. IM4HI’s analysis of the history of racism and xenophobia in the U.S. provided a helpful framework to understand these unjust and perpetual struggles. 

During this time a Ugandan pastor and asylum seeker stumbled upon our congregation, and we were ready to offer both embrace and accompaniment. We journeyed with Brian as he navigated finding housing, work and ultimately asylum. We were overcome with joy when he was granted asylum yet devastated as he shared stories of every other person in his group being denied the opportunity to stay in this country. IM4HI provided a model for how we could best accompany Brian and the larger IM4HI community provided opportunities to share his story and preach in different contexts.

Sanctuary in a Time of Raids. In 2019, the increased threats to our immigrant neighbors and the fruits of our journey coincided to reveal how living out our sanctuary commitment was transforming us. During that summer, President Trump was terrifying the immigrant community with threats of raids, as well as singling out places that were challenging his racist policies. Oakland made the short list, and our city was racked with fear. Specific threats were issued on a Friday, that raids were to begin that Sunday, putting thousands at risk. Over the weekend, our Sanctuary Working Group huddled to come up with a plan. By Sunday, we gathered the congregation following worship to beseech them to open the doors of our congregation to anyone afraid to go home. “How long will this last?” was a pressing question. “As long as the threat is real,” was all we could answer. Despite the ambiguity of the moment, people began raising their hands – “I can provide meals if people stay at the church.” “I can offer money to cover expenses incurred.” “I can spend a few hours at the church to offer hospitality.” “I can spend the night at the church to help out.” “I can offer a room in my home.” The congregation rallied to do whatever was needed to keep our community safe. Fortunately, Trump never did follow through on his threats of mass raids, but he did accomplish the goal of terrorizing an already fearful community. The threats did, however, allow our congregation to mobilize into action and prepare us for the next level of commitment to providing Sanctuary in our community.

The following year, would provide a new crisis.  The call of Jesus that our church proclaims is not only to provide welcome, support, love, and care, but also to transform societal structures to end injustice repair the harms created by systems of oppression. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard anew Jesus’ prophetic call, echoing the prophet Isaiah, to Release the Captives. This began as a literal call to release those who were in detention, a system we had already learned was unnecessary, unjust, and inhumane. Since it was impossible to avoid COVID exposure in detention centers, the pandemic rendered detention a potential death sentence to anyone inside. Federal judges were demanding humane release, but ICE insisted detainees have a place to go before they would release anyone.  Most had family members to return to, but some did not. Our congregation was asked by IM4HI to consider providing temporary shelter to allow for the release of a Salvadoran young man. Since our church building sat empty due to pandemic shelter in place ordinances, and despite earlier concerns, we could not deny this opportunity to help someone attain freedom from ICE’s cruel clutches. When we learned our new friend’s story, of enduring nearly four years in detention, we began to understand the long-term harms of immigration detention and how this system functions to isolate, criminalize, and destroy hopes of finding safety in our country. Oscar stayed in our sanctuary only 5 days, as we still didn’t have facilities for long-term hosting. Yet our limited provisions allowed for his immediate release, and other IM4HI congregations provided longer-term housing and accompaniment for the next year. Our church continued to provide emotional and spiritual accompaniment. 15 months after his release from detention, there were representatives from four IM4HI congregations in the courtroom accompanying Oscar. We witnessed the culmination of a four-year trial in which his immigration judge reluctantly halted his deportation.  Though able to stay in this country. Oscar will not be able to access the rights of full citizenship. Together we celebrated his newly-granted safety.

Celebrating Oscar’s freedom to live in the United States

Befriending Oscar on his journey to liberation and experiencing our own liberation – from ignorance and isolation of the harms taking place in our community – has been transformative. Our journey to release the captives continues as we’ve joined the movement to release as many captives from detention as possible and work to end the practice of immigration detention in California.

Each step of this journey has been taken in close partnership with IM4HI, who invited us to go deeper, introduced us to people harmed by injustice, equipped us to respond to the needs around us, connected us with additional resources, and prepared us to expand our faith commitments. And, of course, allowed us to partner with amazing faith leaders and congregations throughout the Bay Area who have been companions on our journey. We have learned that the work of providing Sanctuary is indeed sacred work. It is work that allows us to more fully embrace beloved community. As we look to the future, we encourage other congregations distraught by what is happening to migrants and immigrants in this country to discern what resources you have and how you might join in the work of the larger IM4HI community. The need is great; the work is healing.  The relationships are transformative, and as we learned each step of the way, there are a multitude of ways to get involved.  Find one or more that are appropriate to your context and join in the life-giving and liberative work of ensuring immigrant justice in our country!

Lakeshore community members outside of Yuba Detention Facility (where Oscar was imprisoned) advocating to close down the detention center.

by Rev. Dr. Allison Tanner, Pastor of Public Witness, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church


Abolition Resources

IM4HI/DND Pilgrimage for a Better Future 2022

We invite you to read and share the Pilgrimage For a Better Future Resource Guide with educational resources and ways to take action that congregations, school communities, and individuals can use.

Lessons from the ICE Detention Contract Termination in Contra Costa County 

In July 2018, the sheriff of Contra Costa County announced he would end his contract with ICE to house about two hundred immigrants in the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond, California. The closure was a dramatic moment, after a seven-year public education campaign led by the faith community. 

During the months and years before the announcement, congregations and faith-based organizers had educated the public, built a network of relationships with lawyers and community-based organizations, and cultivated champions among elected officials. They had created a safety net of accompaniment and support for detained migrants and their families. When the sheriff decided to end the county’s involvement in detention, detainees, their families, lawyers, and community-based organizations scrambled to respond and adapt. 

A year later, after the passage of Assembly Bill 32, we convened some of the key players to discuss the lessons we learned and create this resource.

Just Closures Guide

This guide, created in partnership with the Dignity Not Detention Coalition (DND), provides information and resources around Just Closure. DND defines Just Closure as a phase-out process that ensures people are completely liberated from the cruel conditions of incarceration and are allowed to be reunited with their communities. This includes support beyond release from incarceration, including the ensuing legal battle to fight against deportation proceedings. Our Just Closure Model also calls on elected leaders to reinvest in localities that have been exploited by carceral profiteers that force under-resourced communities to rely on immoral prison pipelines. Just Closures shift power away from carceral punishment systems and empowers local communities to reimagine public safety, health, and restoration. 

The People’s Plan for Prison Closure

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a coalition of more than 80 organizations, is working to reduce the number of people in prisons, reduce the number of existing prisons, and redirect funding to build the infrastructure of vulnerable communities. This report, The People’s Plan for Prison Closure (PPPC) is a visionary roadmap that demands bold commitments to justice reinvestment. It provides detailed recommendations including the prioritization of ten prisons to close in the next five years and why, a call to close all women’s prisons, an analysis of cost-savings to be reinvested in impacted communities, and data-driven information about the roles racism continues to play in both prison expansion and overcrowding. 

Health and Safety for Young Migrants: Recommendations for Supporting Unaccompanied Youth

Thousands of immigrant youth arrive to the US without a parent of legal guardian and are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) until they can be released to a sponsor. Often ORR detains these youth in restrictive, large-scale, congregate settings that harm their health and wellbeing. Rooted in the stories, experiences, and recommendations of young people who arrived to the US as unaccompanied youth, this resource draws from public health evidence documenting the heath harms of these large-scale, restrictive settings. It puts forward a vision for ending the current system of detaining unaccompanied minors in harmful settings and for shaping health, just, and supportive immigration policies for unaccompanied youth.

Following the work of organizations with experience and expertise in working with unaccompanied youth, including Detention Watch Network and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the resource presents a list of systemic and long-term recommendations that promote the health and wellbeing of impacted youth. 

Dignity Not Detention (DND) Coalition

@CADignity – The Dignity Not Detention Coalition is a statewide network of organizations fighting to abolish immigrant prisons. IM4HI is an active member.


Over 340 Faith Leaders Urge Gov Newsom To Support the VISION Act

On Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022, over 340 faith leaders from across California and the United States will deliver a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to champion the VISION Act (AB 937) and sign the bill when it reaches his desk. The VISION Act would end California’s voluntary practice of transferring immigrants and refugees who have been deemed eligible for release from state or local custody or earned parole to ICE detention. 

Thousands of immigrants each year have been subject to cruel and inhumane conditions when transferred from jails and state prisons into ICE detention centers, which have been shown to be rife with neglect and abuse. Immigrant community members who have completed a jail or prison sentence should not be doubly punished by ICE detention and possible deportation.

In the letter, the faith leaders share “Though we are people from multiple faith traditions, we share a set of common beliefs that we, as humans, are capable of error, but also of redemption, forgiveness and transformation.  We know that with honesty, hard work, recognizing root causes and proper support, people are capable of change. It is unfair to transfer, deport and exile a person with a conviction for an offense committed decades or years ago, for which the person has served time and earned release.”

Rev. Noel Andersen, of Church World Service in Washington, DC, states that “As people of faith and consciousness, we are called to support the immigrant community and prevent harm and suffering caused by unfair and unjust policies. The California legislature has a moral responsibility to pass the VISION Act to help stop the ways criminalization and double punishment has harshly impacted far too many lives and wrongfully separated families. The people who have transformed their lives and completed their sentences should be able to return home to their loved ones immediately.”

Rev. Deborah Lee, of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, states “Beloved community members, such as Phoeun You, a Cambodian refugee and genocide survivor who was recently deported by ICE, have not only made amends and transformed their lives, but become community leaders who others look to and learn from. They are family members, role models, friends, caretakers and mentors who their communities need at home.” 

Download the faith letter urging Governor Gavin Newsom to take action to sign the VISION Act.

Take Action:

Email or Call Gov. Gavin Newsom (916) 445-2841 to urge him to sign the CA VISION Act (Even those outside California can call!)

“My name is ____ and I represent ____ (organization, or city/county where you live). I am calling urging you to sign the VISION Act to protect refugee and immigrant communities, stop people from being doubly punished, and permanently separated from their families.  AB937 would protect refugee and immigrant community members, who have already been deemed eligible for release from being funneled by local jails and our state prison system into immigration detention. 

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