At least one church in the Upstate is close to announcing it will be a sanctuary church, said Clemson University doctoral student Will McCorkle.
At a forum for Upstate churches Saturday at the Clemson United Methodist Church, McCorkle said more than a handful of churches, primarily in the Greenville area, would also be sympathizers.
The question now is whether, and how, the church or churches will address their sanctuary status in public because there could be legal consequences, he said.
A sanctuary church would take cues from a movement in the 1980s, when churches offered protection to migrants from countries torn apart by conflict, said Salvador Villaseñor, who fled his native Salvador as a child for America.
He said a network of churches in Cincinnati, where he is based, is quite open about their work while there are other networks in northern states that have not gone public yet.
There will be opposition to churches taking on the sanctuary status, said the Rev. Keith Ray, of the Clemson church.
He said there are people and communities in South Carolina who would not be comfortable with housing immigrants in a church while facing possible legal ramifications.
Churches and people who act to shelter immigrants, even those facing deportation, are unlikely to be prosecuted for harboring or transporting illegal immigrants, said Jen Smyers, associate director of immigration and refugee policy with Church World Service.
She said there have been no such prosecutions since the 1980s and while it remains a possibility, she doubts it would happen.
Immigrants can, however, face deportation if they are jailed, which is why housing people in churches or church networks can help save people from deportation, Villaseñor said.
He said the Cincinnati network is expecting to get a formal request next week to shelter a woman who fled Africa out of fear of genital mutilation and who may be sent back to get her passport.
Villaseñor said based on previous cases, if the woman gets sent back, she will not be able to return to America.
He said there are strong biblical and moral reasons to support sanctuary churches, but he understands the need to weigh legal consequences.
Villaseñor spent more than a year as a political prisoner in El Salvador, he said, and he is in no hurry to go to jail again but wants to help others protect people who face persecution or armed conflict to have a safe place in America.
The Rev. Kristin Dollar, who helped organize the seminar, said she hopes it helps connect people in the Upstate with existing organizations like Hispanic Alliance and Church World Service. The meeting, she said, could also be a start to creating a sanctuary network of churches and worshipers throughout the Upstate.
There's a need for it, Dollar said.