Phoenix Sanctuary Leader Decided Not To Finish Vetting Process

February 14, 2018
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Rev. Ken Heintzelman is senior minister at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix.

The senior minister of a north Phoenix church said he did not complete the normal vetting process when he recently offered sanctuary to an undocumented Mexican man with a son fighting cancer.

Shadow Rock United Church of Christ has provided sanctuary to undocumented immigrants since 2014.

The church typically vets sanctuary candidates to make sure it uses its limited resources to help people who have the best legal chance to stay in the country.

In hindsight, Rev. Ken Heintzelman wishes he had completely vetted the case of Jesus Armando Berrones, but he’s pleased with the outcome of his decision.

Berrones visited Shadow Rock last Friday as part of the vetting process. While Berrones was there Heintzelman learned that a news story about Berrones had broken nationally. The church leader thought such public exposure made Berrones a target for immigration authorities.  

“And I made the offer before going through the whole vetting process because I thought he was vulnerable,” Heintzelman said.

Berrones accepted the offer, and stayed at Shadow Rock until Monday when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement postponed his deportation for humanitarian reasons.

Heintzelman said his decision to not completely vet the Berrones case exposed the church to potential danger, and he’s taken full responsibility for it with staff. Looking back, he said he should have stuck to the process.  

“I don’t have any regret about the outcome,” Heintzelman said. “I’m glad that [Berrones has] a year that he can be with his family. I hope he sees it as grace.”