A year after declaring itself a sanctuary congregation, the Olympia synagogue, Temple Beth Hatfiloh, officially acted on that decision Thursday afternoon by announcing they would protect a Guatemalan woman and her son from immigration authorities.
Maria Pablo, who fled the country because of domestic violence, attended the announcement but she did not address those in the audience and her head and face remained covered. About 40 people gathered at the synagogue, including other faith leaders and members of the Temple Beth congregation.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein explained that Maria and her son were denied asylum, so rather than face deportation and persecution at home, they chose another route.
"They have chosen to go into sanctuary while a legal remedy is being sought," he said. "We at the temple have received them with open arms."
He said she does have attorneys, who seek a reopening of her case before the federal Board of Immigration Appeals.
Goldstein said there were two main reasons that drove the congregation to welcome Maria and her son: welcoming the stranger is rooted in our spiritual values and the history of Jews and Jewish immigration in this country.
"The American Jewish community is the story of immigration, of fleeing oppression and hardship, and seeking safety and security on these shores," he said.
Following the city of Olympia, which announced in 2016 that it would be a sanctuary city, Temple Beth became a sanctuary congregation in August 2018. The synagogue is one of more than 1,100 congregations throughout the country that have taken a similar step, Goldstein said.
In Washington state, Temple Beth is the third congregation to offer sanctuary to an immigrant, said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. The other two are in Seattle, he said.
Ramos also spoke on Thursday, as well as the Rev. Carol McKinley of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Ramona Ramirez of Cielo, an immigrant support organization. All three spoke in support of Temple Beth's decision and immigrant rights.
After becoming a sanctuary congregation, Temple Beth learned about Maria and her son through immigrant rights organizations, Goldstein said. She was presented to the congregation earlier this summer and entered sanctuary this week, he said.
Churches, schools and hospitals are considered sensitive locations by immigration authorities, which is one reason "we can engage in this process," Goldstein said.
However, in light of what recently happened with an immigrant at the Thurston County Courthouse, Goldstein acknowledged "we are mindful about what could possibly happen."
He said the congregation is prepared to host Maria and her son for as long as it takes.
"In taking this action, we in this congregation call upon our government to address asylum law, and family separation, and develop a just immigration policy," Goldstein said.