Denver, Colo., Apr 7, 2017 / 12:48 am (CNA).- Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver didn’t tell a group of Hispanic parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Greeley, Colo., that the Catholic Church would deny sanctuary to an individual who needed help, but he didn’t want that question to be the sole focus of the community, either.

“What we are trying to do [as a Church] is work from now so that we never come to the point of being in the situation where a family is living in a church basement,” he said. “We want to prevent that situation before it occurs.”

The bishop said this Tuesday, Mar. 28, at the first of three meetings organized by Centro San Juan Diego, together with the Consuls General of Guatemala, Mexico and Peru, to inform the community of the current immigration policies, offer advice on what steps to take if they should find themselves in a crisis, and to confirm their solidarity with the immigrant community.

When asked about sanctuary, or sensitive locations, as immigration laws define it, the bishop said that it’s a Christian duty to help someone in need, and that “we aren’t going to close the door on anyone,” adding that “the Church is your home.” “But we have to ask ourselves if this is the best solution for a family,” he stated, “because in reality, they will be living for months completely confined in a room.”

The bishop said that the informational sessions and legal advice were preventative steps, so that “hopefully we don’t arrive to this situation [of needing to provide refuge].”

Checks and balances

Cheryl Martinez-Gloria, director of the immigration program for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, clarified that little has changed with President Donald Trump’s executive order in January that sought to expand enforcement priorities and expedited removal.

“We are still operating under the same enforcement as we were under the Obama administration,” she said, attributing the fear and confusion of many immigrants to the “bad information out there.” According to Martinez-Gloria, because of a lack of funding, which can only be approved by a vote of Congress, ICE is limiting priorities of enforcement to what they were under President Barack Obama’s administration, which include convicted felons, gang members, drug traffickers and those with final orders of deportation.

With regard to expedited removal, Martinez-Gloria said this procedure has existed in US law since 1996, but has been limited to those who are either at the border or within 100 miles of the border. The Trump order sought to expand expedited removal to apply it to anyone in the United States who has been here less than two years. “That would imply a change in federal regulations, which could take months, a year or years,” she said.

“There are three elements to our government,” she explained, “the power of the president, the power of the legislature and the power of the courts. And all three have to be in agreement. This is the balance of our system.” “Have faith in the balance of powers,” she said.

The lawyer also advised those attending to never “assume that just because he or she has been contacted by immigration that they are necessarily going to be deported.” “You continue to have rights,” she said, “despite the circumstances.”

Be prepared

All three representatives of the consulates presented, including Juan Fernando Valey, Consul General of Guatemala; Jeremías Guzmán Barrera, Deputy Consul General of Mexico; and Eduardo Barandiarán, Consul General of Peru. Valey began his presentation with a general warning against believing lawyers who will “fix your immigration” status for $5,000. He suggested getting legal advice and referrals from the consulates, or from Catholic Charities.

According to a presentation of the consulate of Mexico, immigrants are advised to be prepared with an emergency plan in the case they are detained. Most importantly, have a plan for who will take care of their children, and who will have legal guardianship of them.

The deputy consul gave some advice on how to act when one encounters civil authorities.

For example, when an official comes to your house, don’t attempt to run away, stay calm and know that they can’t enter your home without a warrant. If you are detained, he continued, don’t answer any questions without consulting a lawyer, ask to call your consulate, don’t sign anything, don’t lie and never give authorities false documentation.

Other general words of advice included not breaking any lawful regulation, particularly driving without a license and drinking and driving, and to avoid fights and anything that could put you into contact with authorities in a negative manner.  

Originally published in the Denver Catholic.