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The Price of Sanctuary

Amanda Magnus

When Juana Ortega walked into St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro last Spring, she was seeking sanctuary from deportation. But she may have also inspired a movement.

Since then, a number of other congregations across the state have voted to get involved in the movement and turn their churches into spaces of refuge. North Carolina is on course to become the state with the most sanctuary churches in the country. Why here?

Gwen Gosney Erickson, librarian and archivist for the Friends Historical Collection, tells host Frank Stasio about the long, rich history of North Carolina Quakers who provided sanctuary and safe passage to slaves as far back as 1770.

Rev. Julie Peeples of Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro joins the conversation to talk about her church’s efforts to provide refuge to two immigrants. Stasio also speaks with Oscar Canales, an undocumented immigrant and father who owns his own roofing company. Canales received a deportation order last year, and is currently seeking sanctuary at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro.

Stasio ends the conversation with Andrew Willis Garcés, immigrant rights organizer with American Friends Service Committee. Garcés shares the narratives of the immigrant communities he works with. He reveals their hopes, fears, and what activists are doing to support immigrants in the state.  


Rev. Julie Peeples on taking an immigrant into sanctuary:

The law strictly says that people are forbidden to hide, to harbor, to shield from detection anyone sought by law enforcement, and they are forbidden to transport. In the new sanctuary movement which has been going on about 12 years in this country, we by and large are not harboring. We are not hiding. So the first thing we do is tell ICE that the immigrant is with us.  


Reverend Julie Peeples talking to host Frank Stasio.
Credit Angie Perrin
Rev. Peeples of UCC joined Frank Stasio at the Triad Stage for a discussion about the decision to become a sanctuary church.

Oscar Canales on why returning to El Salvador isn’t an option:


I’m not planning to go back. If I go back to El Salvador it's a dangerous country. I don’t want to bring my family over there. That would completely separate the family, you know.  And if I go back there, it's dangerous … If they know you come from the United States.


Gwen Gosney Erickson the history of N.C. Quakers providing sanctuary:


The time period I’m talking about was primarily in the 18-teens –1820s, 1830s. Still decades before the U.S. Civil War would occur, so there was no guarantee of how this would turn out.  That creates a real lesson for us as well today – thinking about now, pretty much everyone says this was a great thing to do … I have researchers visit routinely asking about efforts to assist with ending of slavery and providing sanctuary to enslaved people. However, at the time it was highly controversial and often looked down upon.

Andrew Willis Garcés on why being undocumented is not a crime:  

It’s actually not a crime to be in this country without documentation. It’s a civil violation, so that’s not a criminal violation. So there is a big difference in the law. The Trump administration has been trying to change that definition without going through any kind of lawmaking process.  So they are now describing people who have overstayed their visas or entered without inspection as being criminals, but that’s not actually true.


Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
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