UPUCC Covenant Partners voted in October 2017 to become a place of refuge for an undocumented immigrant seeking a stay of deportation. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy that "enforcement actions are not to occur at or be focused on sensitive locations such as schools or places of worship, unless exigent circumstances exist."
Volunteers from UPUCC and several other church and synagogue congregations serve as Sanctuary Hosts, making sure that someone is on site 24 hours a day in case ICE agents come to the church to serve a detention order. Each volunteer received training on how to respond to such an encounter, and other sanctuary churches across the country now use the same training materials.
On October 10, 2017, Eliseo Jimenez entered sanctuary at UPUCC. Eliseo was the fourth undocumented immigrant to enter protective sanctuary in North Carolina and the first in Raleigh. He first came to the United States when he was 17 in order to get away from his abusive father in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. He feared for his own safety, and a cousin offered to pay his way across the border and to provide some money to start a new life in North Carolina.
Alamance County deputies arrested Eliseo in 2007 while doing immigration checks at a roadblock. He was deported, but made his way back into the United States several weeks later in order to be reunited with two young children who are now adults. He is now fighting to stay in the country to care for his 6-year-old daughter Allison and 5-year-old son Christopher. They and Eliseo's wife Gabriela live in Greensboro during the week but come to Raleigh on the weekends.
Some sanctuary seekers have gotten to go home within a few days, others after a couple of years. Sanders said it is a long commitment from the churches who host as well as the undocumented immigrants because there is a lot of uncertainty about how long these cases can last.