Denver synagogue and church give sanctuary to Araceli Velasquez as ICE knocks on her door

A mother of three and her family are seeking protection from immigration authorities in the building that houses Temple Micah and Park Hill United Methodist Church.
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A sanctuary inside the Park Hill United Methodist Church. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) religion; judaism; temple; torah; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite

The sanctuary of Park Hill United Methodist Church. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A mother of three and her family are seeking protection from immigration authorities inside of the building that serves Temple Micah and Park Hill United Methodist Church on Montview Boulevard.

"We’re charged in our tradition to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. In places that we don’t see that in the world, we need to do something about that," said Rabbi Adam Morris of Temple Micah.

"In our country, recently, we’ve certainly felt that more poignantly."

The woman seeking sanctuary, Araceli Velasquez, fled El Salvador in 2010 in fear for her life, according to the American Friends Service Committee of Colorado.

Since then, she has married and had three children with her husband, Jorge Velasquez. Her children are U.S. citizens, according to AFSC.

The church and synagogue have renovated "nooks and crannies" of their building to serve as a proper living space for the family, including a common area, bedroom space and a bathroom, "so they could live like human beings here," Morris said.

This is the first time that the congregations have welcomed someone to take sanctuary. Religious institutions have long offered protection for immigrants, but perhaps 400 more have joined the cause since the election of President Donald Trump, 60 Minutes reported.

Velasquez lost an asylum case but was granted a temporary reprieve from deportation, according to AFSC. Immigration authorities have since indicated that they would not renew that protection, meaning she faces deportation, AFSC wrote in news release.

The Velasquez family moved into the religious institution last Tuesday, Morris said. Today, immigration authorities came to her home in search of her, prompting the organizers to hastily convene a press conference scheduled for Friday evening.

"Unfortunately, part of the reason that we’re having this conversation now is that we actually planned to have a more formal organized release and announcement with her, but her husband was visited today by ICE agents looking for her and threatening her status," Morris said.

Religious sanctuary is not a legal protection against deportation agents, but immigration authorities have been hesitant to enter houses of worship.

In Denver, Jeanette Vizguerra and Arturo Hernandez Garcia left sanctuary after winning two-year stays of deportation. Ingrid Latorre received a shorter reprieve.

Morris couldn't immediately say how far the religious organizations would go in resisting federal agents.

"We are ready to support Araceli. We said we wanted to make this a sanctuary for her. We will step up and confront that in a way that helps her do that," Morris said.

"We do not enter with any sense of time. Our goal is to walk with her until she feels this has reached a completion."

Further information in Velasquez's case wasn't immediately available. The action is being organized through the Metro Denver Sanctuary Committee.

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