Quakers are known for translating their faith into action. Few communities had embodied that commitment more fully than Dover Friends Meeting in New Hampshire and their engagement with sanctuary ministry.
The immigration system in the United States, rooted deeply in white supremacy and racism, has been an intense focus of advocates for decades. But in 2017, as President Donald Trump took office, the need for migration justice became more evident than ever before. In response, attendees of the Dover Friends Meeting decided they would begin taking concrete steps to create a place of refuge in their community.
Quakers are known for translating their faith into action. Few communities had embodied that commitment more fully than Dover Friends Meeting
“We see sanctuary in the current time as a continuation of a much longer tradition,” said Maggie Fogarty, a member of Dover Friends Meeting and New Hampshire program director for the American Friends Service Committee.
As she explained, sanctuary entails caring for those who seek refuge from danger in its most basic form. In the 1970s, Friends across the nation provided sanctuary to those fleeing danger in Central America—a threat that, as Fogarty noted, often had its roots in U.S. interventionism.
Members of Dover Friends Meeting had become close with immigrant neighbors before President Trump took office. Through these relationships, they became familiar with the perils presented by the U.S. immigration system. But with the Trump administration in power, the situation quickly became urgent.
An Indonesian family that several Dover attendees had befriended had been seeking asylum for 20 years. But when the Trump administration took office, they were told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that they had 30 days to purchase plane tickets, pack up their lives, and leave the country.
“We were there when they received this news, and we saw the shock and horror on their faces,” said Fogarty. “It prompted a conversation at our next meeting: ‘Are we able to provide safe harbor for our neighbors who are facing a real risk of being expelled from this country?’”
The answer was yes.
In September 2017, Dover Friends Meeting came to unity and agreed to use their meetinghouse as a refuge for individuals who decided to defy their deportation order. “We didn’t have magical power,” said Fogarty. “But we hoped the narrative of them seeking refuge in a house of faith would compel others in our community to see the rightness of defending these families. This would be our protest, and we hoped it would be unpalatable for immigration agents to break down the doors of a house of worship.”
In the days after that agreement, Dover Friends began asking others in the community if they would join them in this sanctuary work.
It didn’t take long for other faith congregations to sign on, and together they formed the Seacoast Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition.
“All the partners in the coalition found ways to house people in need of refuge or walked with people working to make a home in the community. Whether it was driving lessons, helping find a job or an apartment, or even just companionship, we’ve strived to give support however we can,” Fogarty said.
Ultimately, the Indonesian family didn’t end up needing sanctuary, thanks to widespread public attention to their cause.
Even with a leadership change in the White House, the need for sanctuary has persisted.
But Dover Friends Meeting did end up housing one family of four and one woman in need of refuge. Overall, Fogarty estimates that the broader coalition, now nine congregations strong, has provided sanctuary for roughly 20 people.
Even with a leadership change in the White House, the need for sanctuary has persisted, and Dover Friends Meeting remains committed to sanctuary ministry. Currently, they are renovating their meetinghouse so that it meets fire codes and can continue to serve as a place of refuge.
The process of providing sanctuary has only deepened the faith of people like Fogarty. “Seeing how our [immigrant] neighbors tap into their faith and strength has had a very positive impact. I’m awed by the strength of spirit of those who have dealt with such awful situations yet still show up with love,” she said.
“In work like this, we have to embrace challenges to our conceptions of power constantly. It requires a whole lot of listening to each other. Be prepared to work in community and to learn together.”