Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

Nevada Church Offers Sanctuary To Immigrants, But Should It?

The Flaming Chalice is the most widely recognized symbol of the Unitarian Universalism
By United States Department of Veterans Affairs -, Public Domain,

The Flaming Chalice is the most widely recognized symbol of the Unitarian Universalism

The men and women seeking the presidency talk a lot about immigration.

There’s a rabid push by some to put up walls to keep people from illegally coming to America and taking jobs.

At the same time, federal authorities are working hard to deport many of those caught living in the country illegally. In 2015, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported some 235,000 undocumented immigrants.

They say 59 percent of those had criminal records.

But what about someone who has lived here for years; has a family; and isn’t a criminal? Do we as a nation say, “too bad?” and send them back, even if it splits up their families?

In many cases, we do that.

But a church in Reno, led by Reverend Neal Anderson, is taking a stand. Members of his Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada voted in November to become a sanctuary.

They recently saved a man from being deported.

"Our congregation, and Unitarian Universalists in general, affirm and promote the dignity of every person and we have become deeply concerned about what we see as an immoral immigration system," Rev. Anderson told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Anderson said in particular his congregation was concerned about how families are split apart in some immigration cases. They want to bring awareness to the situation. 

The man who asked for sanctuary is Jose Gastelum. He has lived in the U.S. for 10 years, is married and has two children who are American citizens

He was arrested for driving under the influence, which is when his immigration status came into question. 

Anderson said he doesn't believe Gastelum should be separated from his family for a DUI conviction. 

"It didn't seem right or moral to us to separate children from their father for that reason," Anderson said. 

Anderson admits there is no barrier that would stop police officers or agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement from coming into the church building and removing someone who claimed sanctuary.

He also said the congregation would not physically stop an officer from coming in. 

"We're doing this based on our deepest religious conviction, standing in the history of our faiths Unitarian Universalism's work through centuries for social justice and to make our world a better place to live," he said.

For now, Gastelum has received a one-year stay of deportation. Anderson would have liked to see a more permanent solution to his immigration status.


Rev. Neal Anderson, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada

Stay Connected
Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.