Sanctuary in churches

Letter to the Editor of the Montreal Gazette.

Immigration Minister Judy Sgro believes that it is inappropriate for churches and other faith communities to provide sanctuary to refugee claimants who have been ordered deported after their hearings. It has been argued that churches should not usurp the role of democratically elected governments and that no one is above the law.
In reality, however, these faith communities have been quite selective in deciding who gets shelter. They undertake to accept these individuals and families as “house guests” by providing food and accommodation, and (one hopes) medical care if required. And as house guests, these refugee claimants do not work or engage in criminal behaviour. If they did, they would no longer be welcome.
What difference is there, then, between these refugee claimants who have become guests of a congregation, and overseas visitors who come to stay with my family? If they remain after their visas expire, will the police or the authorities break down my door to arrest people who are not a burden on Canadian society, who do not engage in criminal activity, and who are not trying to take jobs away from Canadians? I certainly hope not!
As with any house guests who overstay their welcome, the sanctuary provided to refugee claimants is inherently self-limiting. Sooner or later, the congregation footing the bills will decide that a change is necessary. They may be kind-hearted, but not stupid! If the claimants have succeeded in convincing their hosts that they are truly in danger, alternatives to deportation that the congregation can support will be explored. False claimants will eventually be shown the door, and although their deportation may have been delayed for months or even years, this delay hasn’t cost the taxpayers a dime, and we can all continue to feel good that we are a country with a heart.

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