Sanctuary Press Release - April 6, 2018

Contacts: Rev. Janet Bush 413-584-1390; Laurie Loisel, Congregation President 413-374-7604. Statements follow press release.

NORTHAMPTON, MA -- On Friday April 6th Irida Kakhtiranova – a western Massachusetts wife to a U.S. citizen and mother of three U.S. citizen children – entered into sanctuary at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. The Unitarian Society, in collaboration with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, is supporting Irida, a restaurant worker and sole wage earner in her family. Irida came to the United States from her native Russia in 2003 and now faces deportation. She has requested sanctuary while she fights her deportation case. A press conference will be held on Tuesday, April 10 at the Unitarian Society, 220 Main Street, at 2PM.

The Society’s decision to offer sanctuary followed a Dec. 10 congregational vote that approved a resolution declaring its willingness to offer physical sanctuary to someone in need. The vote came after a three-month discernment process during which members attended listening circles and information sessions held to educate the membership on what it means to become a sanctuary congregation. At the congregational meeting, there was robust and respectful discussion, after which the members present approved the resolution with an 89 percent margin.

During the discernment process, members determined that they felt called by our faith, mission, values and principles to take this step. Members expressed their belief that it is imperative to resist the persecution and deportation of immigrants that are currently tearing up families all over the country. Houses of worship historically have played a role in providing sanctuary to those in need.

Several Unitarian Society members mentioned that many of us are descendents of immigrants, and some noted that their families provided or benefitted from sanctuary during the Holocaust.  We believe that offering sanctuary is an act of faith that puts our principles into action. Sheltering is part of our unique Northampton history, where in the 19th century our congregation participated in the Underground Railroad, and two decades ago set up cots to shelter friends without homes. We have consistently championed human rights locally and globally, and supported many of our neighbors in need.

In times of great uncertainty and failed moral leadership, the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence joins with other houses of worship around the country to live out our faith and commitment to social justice. We act in solidarity with hard-working members of our community now battered by a broken and misguided immigration system.

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) builds power with low wage and immigrant workers. Its membership base is made up of predominantly restaurant and farm workers. Like the rest of the U.S. the Pioneer Valley is not unique in the fact that immigrant workers fuel our local economy. Irida is one of the many workers in our restaurants who provide for their families and contribute to their communities, yet she has been fighting deportation for over a decade.

Since November 2016 PVWC has been working with our worker committee and Sanctuary in the Streets to ensure that our community understands that our liberation is intertwined with that of immigrants. Through the Interfaith Sanctuary and Solidarity Network we have worked with local congregations to provide sanctuary in times of need.

The Society and the Pioneer Valley Worker’s Center are joined by other local congregations who have covenanted together to provide support. We are grateful for their solidarity, and welcome others to take this journey with us.


From Reverend Janet Bush: “Throughout the ages religious institutions – churches, societies, meetings, synagogues, mosques and temples – have offered sanctuary in times of struggle for those seeking protection from injustice. Today we join in that tradition by offering sanctuary to a working mother unwilling to be torn from her young children. Our Unitarian Universalist faith draws from many sources, including those that call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves. It calls us to come to the side of justice and equity, and to show compassion. Members of this congregation have consulted their consciences, and responded with their hearts in offering shelter among us. We are grateful that we are able to do so.”

From Lauren Burke, an immigration attorney advising the Pioneer Valley Workers Center: “It is rare for an immigrant to be given due process, adequate counsel, and time necessary to fight our broken and inhuman immigration system. Irida is no exception and her story is just one of many. We believe that providing her sanctuary will allow her to fight her case from a place of safety, security and humanity, which is a protection that should be afforded to every person in the United States.”

From Lucio Perez, a PVWC leader who entered sanctuary at First Church in Amherst on Oct. 19, 2017: “Taking sanctuary is not an easy decision but with the community we have here to support us, it is a far better way to be in this fight than to do it when you are far away from your family and your children. I want Irida to know that she needs to embrace faith and hope…”

From Marleny Amaya, PVWC Worker Committee Leader: “As a mother and as a worker, I think that this decision must be very difficult to make. But it is a worthwhile sacrifice to make if it means being able to stay with your family. She has to fight for herself and her family. There are many people here who are supporting her. There is nothing worse than a fight that isn’t carried out, and we will be with you every step of the way.”