NY temple joins sanctuary drive

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The leaders of the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir hoped to enlist other temples in the effort to protect immigrants facing deportation. But fear is keeping more from coming forward, they said.

New York: When the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir in Queens became the first Hindu temple in the nation to publicly declare itself a sanctuary congregation, part of a network of houses of worship that will support and shelter undocumented immigrants, its leaders hoped other local temples would join, too.
But spearheading that effort is proving more difficult than they had hoped. On May 8, no other temples turned up at a meeting intended to encourage others to become sanctuary congregations.
Even within their own temple, only a few undocumented immigrants have come forward to begin talking about their status, though more worship there. “I’m positive it’s the fear,” said Davanie Singhroy, who is helping lead the temple’s efforts.
The struggle at Shaanti Bhavan Mandir mirrors the larger problem that the National Sanctuary Movement, a coalition of some 800 houses of worship, has been having in attracting participation from immigrant congregations of all faiths.
Sanctuary congregations pledge to protect and stand with immigrants facing deportation by providing legal, emotional and practical support and, as a last resort, by sheltering them in their basements and rectories.
“Among mosques and temples, and immigrant-led congregations as a whole, there is often hesitancy, because of the concern that they may become targets, whether for ICE or hate groups,” said the reverand Noel Andersen, the organizer for Church World Service and an organizer of the movement, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In the New York area, about 25 houses of worship are participating in the local branch of the movement, known as the New Sanctuary Coalition, said the reverand Donna Schaper.
There are no mosques among them, though they may be helping their undocumented members quietly, Schaper said. Shaanti Bhavan Mandir is the only Hindu temple involved, she said. Because the temple’s space is small and can accommodate about 150 worshipers, there is no room to physically house an undocumented immigrant, members said. For now, sanctuary means they will serve as a safe space and resource hub.

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