Local religious leaders and activists said Tuesday they will offer sanctuary to Central American families in the country illegally if President Barack Obama’s administration moves forward with plans to deport them.

During a news conference at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles headquarters, activists vowed to form a “circle of protection” around immigrants, who say their lives would be in danger if they are returned to their native countries.

Noel Andersen, a reverend with Church World Service, said he and other clergy officials have been building a “sanctuary movement” to assist Central Americans seeking refuge in the United States.

A network of congregations are “preparing themselves as we speak to open their doors for sanctuary if the administration moves forward with their plan,” Andersen said.

Raids targeting Central Americans who received deportation orders are set to begin in January, the Washington Post reported.

Members of CHIRLA called on President Obama to drop the deportation plans, which have not yet gotten final approval from the Department of Homeland Security.

Xiomara Corteno, director of community education for CHIRLA, said the group and others formed a “large and wide coalition … to say no to this heinous plan by the Obama Administration.”

Activists said that El Salvador is likely to have the world’s highest homicide rates this year, due in part to gang violence. Honduras had the highest murder rate, with 90 homicides for every 100,000 residents.

David Farley, the director of Justice and Compassion Ministries in Pasadena, said the group will “join that circle of protection and we, along with just about every denomination, every faith community in this nation, are outraged, and we will not stand by to allow this to happen.”

Meredith Brown, an immigration attorney, said that volunteer lawyers are ready to help those at risk of being deported.

— Wire reports 

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