An address in Central New York where many people find religious refuge is jumping in to help care for upstate's newest community members by providing a sanctuary for asylum seekers.
The First Congregational Church of Ithaca just welcomed a family of four from Peru. The family described what it's been like to be embraced by a sanctuary church.
“We’re very grateful. We’re very happy. We don’t have the words to express how well we feel," said Edgar, an asylum seeker from Peru who was welcomed to the church and spoke at a press conference on Wednesday.
It's very important for the church to announce it's hosting someone publicly, which is part of the reason why they held the news conference. They said if they don’t, the church can be guilty of harboring.
Edgar and his partner Jenny used to work in agriculture in Peru to help provide for their two daughters. While they wait for the results of their asylum application, the family is blown away by the love they’ve received in New York.
“We feel very safe here, and we’re glad that we have the support of this community and of the church," Edgar said through a translator.
Staying at the church allows them to avoid deportation as the process continues. For the church of Ithaca, declaring itself a sanctuary church took a long time.
“A process of a few years to get there, a couple years, to actually have that declaration, but eventually we did here at FCC, and we’d love for other congregations to be able to do it at some point too," said Michael Smith, a member of the Sanctuary Ministries Team at FCCI.
Once they found out it was possible, the congregation voted.
“It was more than 85% of the membership of First Congregational Ithaca voted to become a sanctuary church," Smith said. "That was a special moment to know that we were confident enough to do this.”
The church works with organizations that keep track of the immigrant community. They get a notification if a possible partnership is identified.
For more than two years, Drucila Francisco Mateo and her daughter lived there.
“We had food, we had shelter, we had friends," she recalled. "I remembered that I wanted to do things like learning English, learning how to ride a bike, sewing, a lot of things that I never thought I could learn.”
But the main priority for Edgar is giving their daughters the best life possible.
“We’re very happy that we’re in a situation here where our children, our daughters can study without being afraid," Edgar said.