Told to Go Back to Guatemala, She Sought Sanctuary Instead

On Thursday, local elected officials and clergy gathered in front of the church altar to object to the aggressive immigration policies enacted by the Trump administration.

“We can’t lose humanity, love, respect and compassion,” the Rev. Luis Barrios, of Holyrood Church, said at the news conference. The hatred and separation of families, he added, do not seem connected “to this country, especially a country that talks too much about family values.”

After Father Barrios, a native of Puerto Rico, was installed six months ago, his church joined the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, an interfaith immigrant rights organization based on a 1980s movement to take in Central American refugees. So when he got the call on Aug. 11 that someone needed sanctuary, “the church was ready,” he said.

A toilet sat upturned in six inches of dirty water in a bathtub that was mid-renovation on the building’s mezzanine floor. Only the paint color — beige — had been chosen for the attached dilapidated room that would be a bedroom. The soaring Gothic Revival church was built in 1914, and was not intended as living quarters.

“We’re a small group, but we’re working very hard to get this ready quickly,” said Luis Hamburgo, 50, head of a parishioner construction crew that works after the members get off from their day jobs. “We want anyone who stays here to feel comfortable, to feel supported and to feel at home.”

Monday is the target date. For now, Ms. Morales and her two daughters Dulce, 9, and Daniela, 8, and her son, David, 2, are sleeping in the library adjacent to the rectory. “But the whole church is theirs,” Fr. Barrios said, before the three children scrambled across the pews onto the pulpit.

Sleeping bags were donated by Fort Washington Collegiate Church. That congregation – and the dozen synagogues and churches of the Upper Manhattan Interfaith Leaders Coalition – planned to meet with the Rev. Barrios Friday to offer help.

The Rev. Donna Schaper, one of the founders of the New Sanctuary Movement, said that her congregation, Judson Memorial Church in the West Village, quietly provided sanctuary for one man for 11 months. Another woman slept for three months in Rev. Schaper’s office. They both moved out, one to an apartment, the other back to family.

Maria Presinal was part of a group of four women from Holyrood who drew up a list of food and household items to buy: cereal, milk, sugar, soap, towels, toilet paper.

“She’s a mother, not a criminal,” Ms. Presinal, 57, said, in Spanish.

But critics of religious institutions offering sanctuary point out that people like Ms. Morales have broken civil laws. “The church should not confuse theology with public policy,” said Bob Dane, the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports stricter immigration controls. “By providing sanctuary, you are providing a high-profile example to come into the country and violate our laws.”