New Berlin Church Prepares to House Immigrants and Refugees

Feb 21, 2017

As the Trump administration considers tightening the rules over which immigrants and refugees can be in the country, one local church is preparing itself to serve as a sanctuary, if needed. Members of the Casa de Restauracion church in New Berlin say they can transform the building on a moment’s notice.

Emmanuel Rios takes me from room to room in the church basement. Right now, they’re set up as meeting rooms with tables and chairs. But Rios says church members could quickly convert the rooms into living quarters, if the Trump administration orders federal officers to round up big numbers of people who are in the country illegally. Rios anticipates some would bring small children, who’d need a place to sleep and play.

“Here is the nursery. We’re planning on putting one bed in here in case people have kids,” Rios says.

Rios is pastor at Casa de Restauracion Church. He says the basement rooms could sleep about 40 people, and there’s also a kitchen, where guests could prepare meals. Nothing is in place yet, but Rios says the church is coordinating with community members so it could quickly provide beds, food and clothing. He says it’s the church’s mission to help people.

“We are making a sanctuary church because everybody knows the immigrant situation right now, so we want to provide for them because we are a Christian church and because it’s our responsibility to care for people in that spot,” Rios says.

Rios says he’s aware that federal authorities could raid the place but he’s grown used to the idea. “Our church is 99 percent immigrants. We are at risk all the time. Just in this spot, they come every week to different services that we have,” Rios says.

Rios says the parishioners who are in the country without authorization, put themselves at risk of arrest and deportation, every time they attend church services. One member of the parish is Maria Flores; she says she hopes to bring her relatives from Mexico to the sanctuary.

“We love the people, I love my family and I cannot stay with my family. We fight every day for this,” Flores says.

Flores says she hopes other churches follow suit, by offering to provide sanctuary. The pastor’s wife Teresita Reyes says while the parish wants to follow the rules, it’s committed to doing the right thing for fellow human beings. 

“We agree and we respect the law but we understand that we have a job to do as a church, that is love and do what Jesus do for everyone on this Earth and that is love, cover them and support them,” Reyes says.

Reyes says the church's hands are tied when it comes to people who have violent criminal records, and there's no guarantee they will be able to stay at the sanctuary.