A man facing deportation by the federal government has taken sanctuary at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, making him the second person to do so since faith communities in Seattle officially opened their doors to immigrants in 2017.
Taking sanctuary will afford Jaime Rubio Sulficio, a Mexican citizen, some measure of protection from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice), an agency that deports undocumented immigrants. ice avoids picking people up in “sensitive locations” including schools, hospitals and places of worship, said spokesperson Tanya Roman.
Officers will conduct enforcement if “they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances,” Roman said.
Sulficio will stay at St. Mark’s as he and his attorney try to “find a legal remedy” to avoid deportation and separation from his wife, Keiko Maruyama, and their 6-year-old son. Their son recently had his first performance in kindergarten, and looked out into the crowd to find his father, Sulficio said.
“I can’t imagine how he will feel when he is looking for me and cannot find me,” Sulficio said.
Sulficio came to the United States more than a decade ago. In that time he became a business owner, taught Latin dance and volunteered his time doing home repair for veterans and disabled people, Sulficio said.
He fought immigration proceedings for nearly five years, and had a stay of deportation until recently, said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
Sulficio is shielded from deportation only while on church grounds. The St. Mark’s campus has the facilities to provide Sulficio a safe, healthy place to call home, said Rev. Steven Thomason, St. Mark’s dean.
Faith communities across Seattle came together in 2017 to announce that they would open their doors to undocumented immigrants to shield them from the increased immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.
To date, only one other person has taken up sanctuary. Jose Robles began living at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in downtown Seattle roughly nine months ago.
Sulficio and Robles each made the decision to broadcast their immigration status and locations despite the danger it poses to them because they want to inspire hope.
“Jose has said all along, ‘Today it’s Jose, tomorrow it’s Juan,’” said Rev. Joanne Engquist of Gethsemane.
Sanctuary is an expression of faith, Ramos said.
“Today, an arbitrary, unjust and cruel regime tears apart families,” Ramos said. “In the Puget Sound region and the state of Washington, faith communities and community organizations affirm the rights and dignity of all in alleviating suffering, removing fear and humanizing situations of injustice.”
The Trump administration has cracked down on immigration. The administration has been widely criticized for separating families arriving at the southern border, instituting a Muslim travel ban and fanning the flames of xenophobia. According to ice statistics, the agency deported 256,085 people in 2018, up 13 percent from Trump’s first year in office, but still below Obama-era numbers.
Trump’s racist rhetoric on the campaign trail sparked fear in communities across the country, leading cities like Seattle to declare themselves “sanctuary cities.”
That form of sanctuary is distinct from sanctuary in religious spaces. It means that Seattle police will not ask about a person’s immigration status nor will the city cooperate with the federal government on immigration issues.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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