Second Columbia church designates itself as a sanctuary

Rock Bridge Christian Church is the second church in Columbia to declare itself a sanctuary church. (Garrett Bergquist)

A Columbia pastor on Tuesday said her church would provide protection and services to immigrants facing deportation.

Rock Bridge Christian Church's congregation voted on Sunday to make its church a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. It's the second church in Columbia to do this after the Unitarian Universalist Church. Rev. Sarah Klaassen said the congregation decided to do this in response to the political climate.

"This seemed like something we could do in an age where there are policy decisions being made that affect the dignity, particularly of immigrants," she said.

Harboring an illegal alien is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Klaassen said she thinks the church would be able to avoid any prosecution because it has openly stated its will operate as a sanctuary rather than trying to hide undocumented immigrants. Immigrations, Customs and Enforcement told KRCG 13 its policy on so-called sensitive locations, such as schools, hospitals and places of worship, remains in effect. The policy require ICE agents looking to detain an immigrant at such locations to first obtain approval from high-level supervisors.

The only exceptions are if there's an imminent risk of death or physical harm or destruction of evidence or if the person involved is wanted due to a national security or terrorism matter, or if the person is a dangerous felon. The Boone County Sheriff's Department said the sanctuary church policy does not affects its operations and deputies would continue to assist ICE whenever asked to do so.

Federal immigration law has been front and center since President Donald Trump took office. The Trump Administration has threatened to cut off federal law enforcement funding from cities that have pursued similar policies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said cracking down on illegal immigration would help reduce violent crime nationwide.

"If they commit a crime while they're in here, my goodness, what right do they have to demand that they not be deported?" he asked at a news conference earlier this year.

If someone asks for sanctuary at Rock Bridge Christian Church, Klaassen said they would be given food and shelter, though right now the church has no sleeping or bathing facilities. She said the church also would put them in contact with local immigration lawyers, translators and case workers.

Attorney General Josh Hawley's office did return a request for comment for this story.

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