The purpose of the Sanctuary Committee is to serve as a sponsor for people who have applied for political asylum and been released from federal detention, and for selected other asylum seekers.
Among the services the Committee provides are housing, medical care, financial support, educational opportunities, language instruction, transportation, recreational opportunities, and liaison with attorneys.
The goal is to help the asylees establish themselves and achieve durable self-sufficiency, with care and support greatest in the beginning and less as they become increasingly independent and able to support themselves.
The Bergen County Sanctuary Committee for Asylum Seekers* is a growing coalition of religious congregations, human rights organizations, affiliated groups and individuals who have joined together to provide humanitarian support and advocacy to men and women who have fled persecution in their native countries and are seeking political asylum in the United States.
Since 1996, the policy of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) has been to detain these individuals in federal detentions center pending the adjudication of their asylum claims. The government maintains such a detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, off of exit 13A on the New Jersey Turnpike. Asylum seekers are detained in grim surroundings for periods, some in excess of four years, though they have committed no crimes. Many are traumatized individuals, and significant numbers are victims of torture. In each jurisdiction the director of the detention center can decide to “parole” selective individuals into the general community pending his or her asylum hearing. Recent surveys have shown that the New Jersey jurisdiction is the harshest in the country with fewer than 3.8% of all detainees released prior to their hearing.
The mission of the Sanctuary program is to provide assistance to individuals who are released and to publicize the injustice suffered by those who languish in detention with a view toward reforming the process. Among the services the Sanctuary Committee provides for asylum seekers are housing, medical care, financial support, language instruction, transportation, recreational opportunities and liaison with attorneys. The Sanctuary also provides support for individuals who have won political asylum for periods up to six month to assist them in moving toward independence in the American context, as well as asylum seekers who arrive on legal visas, and thus avoid detention.
The Committee has provided for a young asylum seeker from Congo, an asylum seeker from Egypt, a woman from Kenya, from the former French Congo, Cameroon and is currently assisting asylum seekers from Sierra Leone and the Darfur region of Sudan.
Congregations and other organizations affiliated with and supporting the Bergen County Sanctuary Committee include the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County (Teaneck), St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (Teaneck), The Central Unitarian Church (Paramus), The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood (Ridgewood), Dar ul Islah Mosque (Teaneck), Temple Emeth (Teaneck), The Interreligious Action Team- Elizabeth (IRATE), First Friends, Human Rights First, the American Friends Service Committee, The International Institute of Jersey City, and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, The Bergen County Volunteer Medical Initiative.
The Bergen County Sanctuary for Asylum Seekers welcomes support from individuals and organizations that share our purposes.
Dr. Joseph Chuman, President
*The Bergen County Sanctuary Committee is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation