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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Facing deportation, mother and son seek sanctuary at Olympia synagogue

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 6, 2019

By Rolf Boone The Olympian

A year after declaring itself a sanctuary congregation, Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia officially acted on that decision Thursday, announcing it would protect a Guatemalan woman and her son from immigration authorities.

About 40 people gathered at the synagogue for the announcement Thursday, including other faith leaders and members of the Temple Beth Hatfiloh congregation. Maria Pablo Matias, who fled her country because of domestic violence, attended the announcement but she did not speak and her head and face remained covered.

Rabbi Seth Goldstein explained that Matias and her son were denied asylum, so rather than face deportation and persecution at home, they chose another route.

“They have chosen to go into sanctuary while a legal remedy is being sought,” he said. “We at the temple have received them with open arms.”

Goldstein said Matias does have attorneys, who seek a reopening of her case before the federal Board of Immigration Appeals.

Goldstein said there were two main reasons the congregation decided to welcome Matias and her son: because welcoming the stranger is rooted in their spiritual values, and because of the history of Jews and Jewish immigration in this country.

“The American Jewish community is the story of immigration, of fleeing oppression and hardship, and seeking safety and security on these shores,” he said.

Following the city of Olympia, which announced in 2016 that it would be a sanctuary city, Temple Beth Hatfiloh became a sanctuary congregation in August 2018. The synagogue is one of more than 1,100 congregations throughout the country that have taken a similar step, Goldstein said.

In Washington, it is the third congregation to offer sanctuary to an immigrant, said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. The other two are in Seattle, he said.

Ramos spoke on Thursday, as did the Rev. Carol McKinley of the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Ramona Ramirez of CIELO, an immigrant support organization. All three spoke in support of the temple’s decision and immigrant rights.

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