Swampscott talks about a safe place

A group gathers at the Sanctuary Movement event at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott.


SWAMPSCOTT Being an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal offense, but rather an administrative violation and should be treated as such.

Dr. Alexandra Pineros Shields, the guest speaker at Thursday night’s Sanctuary Movement event at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, delivered those words to an audience of about 125 at the event sponsored by the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO).

The Sanctuary Movement, which began in the 1980s, is a religious and political campaign that addresses the concerns of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Members of the movement promise to protect immigrant families who face discrimination and deportation issues. Many faith-based organizations are part of the movement.

Dr. Victoria Weinstein, pastor of the church, delivered the opening reflection on the eve of the presidential inauguration, saying, “We’re not here to debate, but rather to love our neighbors and protect the most vulnerable among us.”

Shields delivered a 45-minute presentation on the causes of migration, along with policy changes through the years.

Lynn Councilor-At-Large Brian La Pierre said he thought the meeting was important and the discussion needs to continue.

“As a teacher, leader and elected official in Lynn, I see the connection between educational justice and racial justice, and now, more than ever, we need to come together as one community and face the issue of undocumented immigrants,” he said. “We must have a school system that serves as a safe center of support and learning for all those we serve in the community.”

With the incoming administration’s campaign promises of building walls and deporting undocumented immigrants still fresh in people’s minds, the evening’s agenda also included testimonies on creating sanctuaries for immigrants, immigration policy analysis and sanctuary cities and congregations. Participants were invited to go online at to support the movement.

Lisa Day-Copeland, 57, of Gloucester was in the audience. “I am here because I believe it’s important to offer help and protection to the vulnerable members of society and I would like to see Gloucester become a sanctuary city,” she said.  

Jenney Harkness, 61, of Essex, added, “I grew up in the inner city and I am concerned about the homelessness issue. I truly fear for immigrants, both documented and undocumented, who aren’t welcomed into our cities and towns.”

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