Our Sanctuary ministry began in the midst of Central American civil wars in the 1980s. As our own government was supporting the dictatorships that were creating exiles, University Church opened its doors to civilians whose lives were threatened. Out of this grew our Guatemala Partnership, which continues to this day, and since 2016 we’ve made Room 31 on our third floor available as temporary housing for a number of immigrants seeking asylum and support.

We are a member of the Sacntuary Working Group, through which we partner with agencies, other congregations, and generous individuals to provide safe temporary housing, food stipends, clothing and phone/internet; legal assistance; accompanying them to doctor appointments and help enrolling children in school; and opportunities for community and fellowship. We offer care and prayer, and we do everything we can to provide the stability, comfort, and confidence they need to navigate their new home. Once they are ready to go out on their own, we continue to offer support through rent assistance, ESL, or…whatever is needed!

We do this because we believe this is what God calls us to do. And we welcome volunteers and donations.

Here are the stories of those we’ve had a chance to support:

2016
We welcomed a Mexican undocumented immigrant…faced with deportation, even though he had lived here many years, had children who were US citizens, and had an open legal case arguing that he should be allowed to stay. “Abandoning my children is not a choice I can make. I live for them, and I will fight to stay with them,” said J. He remained with us for nearly 6 months. He won his court case and now has legal status.

2020
A Mexican LGBTQ young man…who had lost his DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status came to us after being released from immigrant detention. He decided to apply for asylum, because he was now subject to deportation, and the town from which his parents had migrated has a history of violence against LGBTQ people. He was with us for two months before relocating. He has won his court case twice, but the Department of Homeland Security has appealed each time. His final hearing has yet to be scheduled, but he and his lawyer just were given a filing court date for paperwork, so the process is moving.

2021
A couple from El Salvador…The woman’s daughter was murdered by Salvadoran gang members, who then threatened to return to kill her. They left immediately with almost nothing to apply for asylum in the U.S. They were separated at the border and sent to different detention centers, but eventually got out thanks to pro bono lawyers who became acquainted with their case. They were with us for three months before relocating to a place where the husband had relatives and a job offer. He has been granted asylum and work authorization. She has work authorization now and is a cook in a restaurant. She has a court date in 2024 for her asylum case.

A family of four (now six) from Honduras…The father was a bus driver. Gangs would shake down bus fleet owners by threatening to kill drivers if the owners didn’t pay a monthly fee. One of the father’s friends was murdered, and someone attempted to shoot the father. The family decided to seek asylum in the U.S. and lived at University Church for 6 months. They have stayed in Chicago and now rent their housing. Father and adult son have work. Their younger son is an A student, even in his second language, English. The mother gave birth to another boy in February 2022, and their oldest son joined them this summer. They have submitted their asylum application but do not have a court date yet.

2022-2023
A family of four from Cameroon…During the last election in Cameroon, a candidate from one of Cameroon’s many ethnic groups ran and lost against the President who has been in power for over 40 years. After the election was over, that President began arresting people from that ethnic group, and the father of this family was from that group. He and his family flew to Brazil, then went through 10 more countries to reach the U.S. They were with us for five months and have now moved into an apartment in the neighborhood. They are eligible and have applied for Temporary Protected Status and are also applying for asylum. The parents have completed the highest levels of ESL, and the wife passed a college-level English 101 course. They have received work authorization and are employed.

A Colombian man...After several of his family members were killed, he was put on a national list of victims of violence and moved to a different city. He started his own business, but one day narrowly escaped being kidnapped and decided to leave the country. He flew here with a visa from the U.S., but mentioned when going through immigration at the airport that he planned to apply for asylum and was immediately arrested and detained for a couple of weeks. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) confiscated all the documents and papers he brought with him to prove his case; he has written to them asking that they be returned and has heard nothing. He lived at the church for a little over a year and now rents an apartment on his own. He has applied for asylum, received work authorization, and is employed.

A Venezuelan man…A well-traveled merchant seaman who has had his own experience of hosting migrants, in the form of Cuban refugees heading to Venezuela.  But now life had become intolerable in Venezuela, in terms of both the economy and security, so he headed north. He spent some time in a migrant shelter, just north of the border, where he was well liked for the friendly way he volunteered to help others, but he needed to move on. He lived at the church for a little over a year and now rents an apartment on his own. He as applied for asylum, received work authorization, and is employed.

2024
A Venezuelan single father with 3 sons…The oldest son was born with spina bifida, and Shriners’ Hospital in Chicago was able to provide him with free corrective surgery to prevent a further degenerative condition. The family is currently living at the church and working with a lawyer to file for asylum and work authorization.

EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS, and if you want to get a sense of what this takes…
$500 = 1 month of groceries and meals
$100 = 1 month of toiletries and personal items
$105 = 30-day Ventra/CTA pass
$80 = monthly utilities (gas, electric, WiFi—goes to the church)
$40 = monthly phone bill

Go to our GIVE page to donate, and indicate “immigrant support” on your donation. Or you may support the Sanctuary Working Group immigration fund that provides assistance to those living in our church and others throughout Chicago.