Four churches in the Washington area have offered sanctuary to more than 60 Salvadorans and Guatemalans, providing them with shelter, food and employment. Three other churches have also joined the sanctuary movement but have not yet taken in any Central Americans.
Sharon Kirmeyer, a spokeswoman for the refugee committee of the Adelphi Friends Meeting in Adelphi says her congregation has helped about 50 undocumented Salvadorans and Guatemalans since it joined the movement. "It means a lot of ongoing support," Kirmeyer says, explaining that it was necessary to provide food, shelter, jobs and, in one case, medical help for a Salvadoran woman tortured by Guatemalan police who has suffered severe psychological problems since coming to this country.
"You never know what you're going to get into when you put out your welcome mat for people fleeing violence," says Kirmeyer.
Luther Place Memorial Church on Vermont Avenue NW, the first church in the area to join the sanctuary movement, has accepted five Salvadorans, a spokeswoman says. Two others were taken in by 8th Day Faith Community and the Jubilee Faith Community, two District congregations of the evangelical Church of the Savior, an official says.
The Rev. George K. Beach of Arlington's Unitarian Church says his congregation, "kind of a middle-class group of people" that includes many federal government workers, decided to join the movement last April by a vote of more than two-thirds. They have not been assigned any families yet, he says.
While sanctuary is a "humanitarian movement," Beach says, it "also carries by implication a criticism of U.S. policy. . . . I think the vote means most people in our congregation feel critical of U.S. military aid to a regime which cannot guarantee the safety of its own people."
Bethesda's River Road Unitarian church made the decision last April, according to David Knapp, a member of the church's board of trustees. They asked an official of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to brief them before they made their decision, Knapp says, but "the congregation has some disagreement with the government's interpretation of the 1980 immigration law."
All Souls Church in the District also has participated.