On Sacred Ground

ICE agents should stop violating their own rules and stay off our sacred grounds. 

In the early morning hours of Sept. 10, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement entered the grounds of Glenmont United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, Md. They knocked on the door of church caretaker Binsar Siahaan’s house, where he lives with his wife and two American-born teenaged children.

The agents lured Binsar outside and then promptly arrested him. Binsar has since been transferred to infamous Irwin Detention Center in Georgia, to await deportation. Faith leaders and elected officials are all working for his release.

Binsar and his wife—both devout Christians from Indonesia, a country where Christians are frequently persecuted—have pending appeals on their asylum cases. Binsar is not a flight risk; he has no criminal background and has lived in this country since 1989. There was absolutely no compelling reason for ICE agents to break their own clearly stated policy on “sensitive locations” to enter church grounds, and then tell lies in order to make an arrest of an undocumented immigrant.

This is not the first time ICE agents have broken their promise to honor the sanctity of houses of worship within miles of the nation’s capital.

In February 2017, in what was viewed as an opening salvo of the newly unshackled ICE in the new Trump administration, agents targeted another United Methodist Church—this one, a hypothermia unit for homeless people.

These egregious actions are an outrage to all people who value justice, decency, and religious freedom, but they are of particular concern to our JFON Network across the country.
Many of our sites have offices in churches, meet clients in churches, and hold immigration legal clinics in churches. If churches and other houses of worship have become fair game for ICE agents, how do we guarantee the safety and security of our clients, staff, and volunteers?

Wherever you live—from Baltimore to Hawaii, from Florida to California, and everywhere in between—our government’s decision to break long-established precedent is a danger for all of us.

We urge you to follow the guidance of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling from the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, and “make some noise” of behalf of Binsar Siahaan, his family, and our immigrant brothers and sisters.

Please call and write your elected officials to demand Binsar Siahann’s release.
The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) has created a petition to #FreeBinsar. NJFON has signed on, and we encourage everyone to sign and circulate ASAP. You can also read GBCS’ statement here.


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Immigration Issues