MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The head of the Archdiocese of Miami, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, says there's not much legal protection a church can provide for an illegal immigrant seeking sanctuary from immigration officials, which is what a woman is doing in Denver.
Jeanette Vizguerra has been taking refuge at Denver's First Unitarian Church to avoid being deported.
"Sanctuary is a concept that arrived in the Middle Ages, in Catholic Europe in the Middle Ages. It doesn't exist as a legal concept in America," said Archbishop Wenski.
The Archbishop says Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the right to enter the church and remover her.
"If somebody has a warrant, they can come in," he said.
But Wenski says there is a legitimate channel for the help these immigrants need.
"The protection that they're seeking is going to be found through the legal process. Most people that are in this situation do not lose their rights for due process and so, rather than hiding out in a church or a university, the best process is to see competent immigration lawyer," he said.
Unfounded rumors about immigration roundups in light of President Donald Trump's recent executive orders on refugee issues and the related travel ban lead the Archbishop to write a letter to Congress asking for comprehensive immigration reform.
"What we're looking for is not to set up a conflict with the state. We're looking to work with the state to work with Congress to achieve a reform of our broken system that will provide the best measure of justice for all," said Archbishop Wenski.
In part of his letter, Archbishop Wenski said, "A pathway to legal residency and possible U.S. citizenship for these people would allow ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to devote resources to apprehending the "really bad apples" – violent criminals and terrorists – instead of chasing nannies and food service workers."
According to a list released by Mayor Carlos Gimenez's office, some really "bad apples" have been picked up since the mayor's decision to hold arrested immigrants when asked by ICE. Thirty-four have been detained so far. All but four were charged with serious crimes and 20 had prior arrests. The feds only picked up a few of them.
The Archbishop stresses that the only solution for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in this country relies solely on Congress.
"Sanctuary's not going to solve their basic problems because first of all you run to the church, you're not going to be able to go to work. If you don't go to work, how are you going to feed your kids? So running to the church is not going to solve the problem that these people have and the only solution is a legal solution, which relies on Congress right now," said Archbishop Wenski.
Something the church can help with, according to Archbishop Wenski, is legal help.
"We have Catholic legal services that provide immigration assistance at no cost or very low cost to thousands of people every month. That would be a much more productive strategy than trying to hide in a church," he said.
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