A spokesman for President Bush has declined to condemn the idea of Christian churches setting up “sanctuary” facilities in aid of illegal aliens who are in violation of federal law.

Nor will he endorse them.

The terse response from the president’s spokesman, Tony Snow, came on a question from Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House.

“Several churches or church groups have announced … plans for sanctuaries where illegal aliens would be sheltered. What message does the White House believe it sends to the nation of a church is in actual defiance of federal law?” he asked.

“No comment on that,” Snow responded.

According to media reports, churches in nearly half a dozen major cities plan to offer protection to illegal aliens as part of a campaign to pressure lawmakers to give the estimated 12 million in the country against the law citizenship.

“We want to put a human face to very complex immigration laws and awaken the consciousness of the human spirit,” Father Richard Estrada of Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles told the Associated Press.

His facility has made modifications to allow one illegal alien to live there.

Already being protected is Elvira Arellano, an illegal alien who has taken shelter at a Methodist church in Chicago. She’s been staying there since August.

Federal authorities have not made clear whether agents would try to arrest others who take refuge in such sanctuaries.

However, those actions by churches don’t acknowledge “they are being charitable with someone else’s resources, and that’s not charity,” said Ira Mehlman, whose group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, endorses limits on immigration.

Several of the initial church participants in the program, in San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and New York, said they won’t actually house illegal alients, but would provide legal counsel and other help.

In an online opinion piece, columnist Chuck Baldwin said it’s not a good idea.

“It is more than troubling to learn that some of my Christian brethren seem to be so undiscerning as to be willing to facilitate lawlessness and even potential terrorism by assisting those who have no respect for our nation’s laws or national borders,” he continued.

“Make no mistake about it: illegal aliens are no more our ‘neighbors’ and ‘friends’ than are other criminals. They knowingly and deliberately violate our nation’s immigration laws and then have the audacity to demand that we accept and even protect them? I don’t think so,” he said.

“Instead of encouraging criminal activity (illegal immigration), Christians and churches should be promoting truth and adherence to law,” he said.

Kinsolving also asked a second question, about the president’s approval rating.

“What is the president’s reaction to the report that Congress (at 29 percent) has an even lower poll rating than he does (at 33 percent)?” he asked.

“The president has made it clear that his job is to lead the country and he continues to do that,” Snow said.

Gallup reported that after a support surge earlier this year when Democrats moved into leadership positions in Congress, public approval dropped off considerably. Congress’ approval rating was set at 29 percent, down from last month’s 33 percent. The president’s approval rating is about 33 percent.

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