Four Salvadorans, given temporary "sanctuary" Thursday in a Northwest Washington church, announced yesterday that they were beginning a 7-to-10-day fast to show their concern over U.S. immigration policies and aid to El Salvador.
The Salvadorans, who are living in Washington as illegal immigrants, covered their faces with scarves or handkerchiefs to hide their identities. One, a 37-year-old man, said that the fast is to demonstrate "solidarity with our people, and at the same time, because we are opposed to the certification and military assistance this country is sending to El Salvador."
The Salvadoran, who said that he fled his country because his name was on a death list, said that the group will take only liquids during their stay in the church, Luther Place Memorial, on Thomas Circle.
The Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of Luther Place Memorial, said that he will fast with them. Members of his and other area churches are working to find more permanent homes and jobs for the group, he said. Three of the group are from Los Angeles. The fourth has been living in the Washington area since December.
Steinbruck said that he expects the Salvadorans to remain in the church from a week to 10 days.
The Luther Place congregation voted two weeks ago to declare the church a "sanctuary" in a movement that now includes about 50 churches and synagogues across the country. The declaration of "sanctuary" is to draw attention to the plight of the Salvadorans; the churches want the illegal immigrants to be given political refugee or similar status until it is safe for them to return to their country.
The Salvadorans, several of them tensely twisting handkerchiefs as they spoke at the church, said that they had fled their country in terror.
For working with a Catholic refugee relief service in San Salvador, there were "death squads looking for me in my house," said a 21-year-old woman who fled last year with her 2-year-old daughter. Her child also is living in the church, but will not participate in the fast.
None of the Salvadorans was identified, in order to protect their families in San Salvador, according to representatives of the D.C. Metropolitan Sanctuary Committee, a group coordinating the church sanctuary movement in this area.
An estimated 50,000 Salvadorans live in the Washington area, according to lawyers who represent some of the immigrants.