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Unitarian Society in Northampton to provide sanctuary for Russian facing deportation

  • Laurie Loisel, left, who is president of the congregation at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, volunteers Nancy Sardeson, of Amherst, and Christine Sass, of Florence, USNF Pastor Janet Bush and Lauren Burke, an immigration attorney advising the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, talk in the kitchen of USNF, Friday after Irida Kakhtiranova, a Russian immigrant facing deportation, was given sanctuary there. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laurie Loisel, left, who is president of the congregation at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, volunteers Nancy Sardeson, of Amherst, and Christine Sass, of Florence, and Lauren Burke, an immigration attorney advising the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, talk in the kitchen of USNF, Friday, April 6, 2018 after Irida Kakhtiranova, a Russian immigrant facing deportation, was given sanctuary at USNF. Kakhtiranova is the wife of a U.S. citizen and the mother of three U.S. children. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, April 6, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Saturday, April 07, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — The Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence is providing sanctuary to a western Massachusetts woman facing deportation, six months after an Amherst church did the same for Springfield resident Lucio Perez.

The society announced late Friday that it had taken in Irida Kakhtiranova, who came to the United States from her native Russia in 2003. The 36-year-old is a wife of a U.S. citizen and has three children who are U.S. citizens, the society said in a press release.

Unitarian officials said they will allow her to live in the church at 220 Main St. while she fights her deportation case.

The Unitarian Society is collaborating with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center to support Kakhtiranova, a restaurant worker and sole wage earner in her family.

Unitarian congregation president Laurie Loisel said support will also come from members of other congregations.

“We have a lot of support from other congregations that want to help but don’t have the space,” Loisel said.

Those volunteers will help in a variety of ways, from providing food to staying with Kakhtiranova. Loisel said someone will be in the building around the clock.

A press conference will be held on Tuesday at the Unitarian Society at 2 p.m. Loisel said society and Pioneer Valley Workers officials will answer questions, but that Kakhtiranova did not wish to be interviewed or photographed.

The Unitarian Society is believed to be the third church in the region to provide sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant. In addition to Perez in Amherst, Gisella Collazo, a Peruvian immigrant facing deportation, took sanctuary on March 26 at the South Congregational United Church of Christ in Springfield.

Perez, who came to the United States almost 20 years ago from Guatemala, has been staying at the First Congregational Church in Amherst since Oct. 19, 2017. He said in a statement Friday that taking sanctuary is not an easy decision but the community support available in the Valley makes it a “far better way to be in this fight than to do it when you are far away from your family and your children.”

“I want Irida to know that she needs to embrace faith and hope,” Perez said in the statement.

Lauren Burke, an immigration attorney advising the Pioneer Valley Workers, said in a statement that it is rare for an immigrant to be given due process, adequate counsel, and time necessary to fight “our broken and inhuman immigration system.”

“Irida is no exception and her story is just one of many,” Burke said. “We believe that providing her sanctuary will allow her to fight her case from a place of safety, security and humanity, which is a protection that should be afforded to every person in the United States.”

The Unitarian Society’s decision to offer sanctuary followed a Dec. 10 congregational vote that approved a resolution declaring its willingness to offer physical sanctuary to someone in need.

The vote came after a three-month discernment process during which members attended listening circles and information sessions held to educate the membership on what it means to become a sanctuary congregation. Members present approved a resolution with an 89 percent margin.

During the discernment process, members determined that they felt called by their faith, mission, values and principles to take this step. Members expressed their belief that it is imperative to resist the persecution and deportation of immigrants that are currently tearing up families all over the country. Houses of worship historically have played a role in providing sanctuary to those in need.

Rev. Janet Bush noted that religious institutions have offered sanctuary in times of struggle for those seeking protection from injustice.

“Today we join in that tradition by offering sanctuary to a working mother unwilling to be torn from her young children ... Members of this congregation have consulted their consciences, and responded with their hearts in offering shelter among us. We are grateful that we are able to do so,” Bush said in a statement.

This article was updated Saturday, April 7, to remove an inaccuracy.