New Haven churches open their doors and their hearts

Marco Reyes (WTNH/ Kent Pierce)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — New Haven is known as The Elm City. But, its status of being a sanctuary city has been making headlines lately.

For the second time in the last 3 weeks, an undocumented immigrant has come to a New Haven church seeking sanctuary from deportation. Marco Reyes is now living inside the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church to avoid being sent to his native Ecuador. Reyes, who lives in Meriden with his family, is a husband and a father who pays his taxes and has a job working in construction. He and his wife and two of their children came to the U.S. 20 years ago without proper identification.

This follows what happened with Nury Chavarria — the mother from Norwalk who sought sanctuary at another New Haven church so she could stay here with her children.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp says she is proud that this is happening in her city.

“We’re a welcoming community,” Mayor Harp said. “In the two cases that have come here, they all have children who are American citizens. They’ve been law-abiding, they word hard, they pay taxes.”

“I’m hoping we go back to our values as American people,” she said. “People have come from all over the world who’ve come to make a life for themselves.”

Mayor Harp says New Haven is home to many activist groups that are standing up in support of people like Reyes and Chavarria. Another group that’s standing up includes some in the religious community. When President Trump was elected, there was an effort to get some New Haven-area congregations to come forward to help undocumented immigrants who may be targeted for deportation. Pastor Paul Fleck of the Hamden Plains United Methodist Church helped to spearhead that campaign.

“It’s something that we believe in,” he said. “It’s showing hospitality to the foreigner who lives and resides among you. It’s something that is old as the Hebrew Torah and The Bible that talks about welcoming the stranger.”

Mayor Harp believes New Haven is shining as a symbol of sanctuary resistance.

“In America, we’ve always said if you come here, if you abide by the law, if you work hard, you can make something of yourself and your family,” she said. “That’s our legacy and that’s what we should be proud of. That’s what’s at jeopardy now.”

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