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Originally published Friday, February 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Groups condemn immigration raids

Immigrant advocates and two local religious leaders said Thursday they would launch a program to offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants if...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Immigrant advocates and two local religious leaders said Thursday they would launch a program to offer sanctuary to illegal immigrants if the federal government continues to raid work sites and deport individuals without fixing its immigration system.

Several groups' representatives, including a Catholic bishop, called a news conference to denounce Wednesday's raids at two United Parcel Service warehouses in Auburn, where agents arrested 51 immigrants they believe are in the country illegally.

By Thursday, 10 had convinced authorities of personal and family hardships and were released from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, with orders to appear before an immigration judge, said Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The others remained in custody.

Immigration officials have brought no criminal charges against UPS or Spherion, a temporary-employment agency that helped staff the warehouses, and are continuing their investigation, Dankers said.

At Thursday's news conference, advocates and religious leaders called for a moratorium on such raids until Congress can reform the nation's immigration system. Without a halt, El Comité Pro-Amnistia, an immigrant justice group, said it would announce the launch of a local sanctuary by the end of March as part of a national effort.

"We don't know that our call for a moratorium will be unsuccessful," said the Very Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral Church.

Taylor, who came to the U.S. as a political exile from South Africa, revealed that he lived as an illegal immigrant for three years during the 1980s. "If there is no response, then sanctuary is the next step."

Dankers said ICE can't debate immigration policy. "We simply enforce the law on the books. It is what it is today."

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said those involved in offering refuge to illegal immigrants should be prosecuted for obstructing justice.

"Do they believe they are above the law?" he asked. Immigration agents should be doing more to remove illegal immigrants from the country — not backing down, he said.

Jorge Quiroga, president of El Comité Pro-Amnistia, which led massive pro-immigrant marches in Seattle last year, said raids like the ones at the UPS warehouses are ripping families apart.

"There's a growing fear that these raids are a way to get rid of a significant number of immigrants before immigration reform is achieved," said Taylor of St. Mark's.

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Catholic Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of the Archdiocese of Seattle said that with charity as an important tenet, "we do not accept when any human is mistreated or deprived of an opportunity to better their lives."

A sanctuary movement would be similar to one in the 1980s through which churches and other organizations gave refuge to thousands fleeing war in El Salvador to seek asylum in the United States.

Organizers say they are talking to local churches willing to serve as host congregations. The Archdiocese of Seattle said that while the Comité has spoken to Elizondo, there are not enough details yet to decide how or whether parishes would get involved.

Under the plan, sanctuary would be open to a limited number of individuals and families unafraid of having their illegal status made public. They must be facing deportation and have a good work record, a potential immigration case under current law and children who are U.S. citizens.

Sergio Salinas, president of Service Employees International Union Local 6, said Thursday that his own family had received sanctuary in a church in Seattle in the 1980s when he fled his native El Salvador.

"We need to send the message that we are willing to risk our safety to push for change," he said.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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