New Zealand's most senior Catholic has appealed to fellow Catholic, Prime Minister Bill English, to reconsider plans to deport Indian students caught up in an immigration fraud.
Cardinal John Dew has issued a joint statement, along with the national leaders of the Anglican and Methodist Churches, asking the Government to act on "our Christian responsibility to care for 'the stranger, the widow and the orphan' among us".
The statement comes as 11 Indian students and their families who face deportation remain in the Unitarian Church in Ponsonby, which says it has given them sanctuary because of the Christian principle of "radical hospitality".
The students have been issued deportation orders because their agents in India submitted fraudulent bank loan documents to prove that the students could afford to pay their tuition fees.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has declined their appeals to intervene in the deportation process.
However Immigration NZ officials reportedly told the students' lawyer Alastair McClymont on Friday that they would hold off for a few days before implementing the deportation orders because Labour leader Andrew Little told the students he would make a last-ditch appeal to Associate Immigration Minister David Bennett.
A spokesman for Little said the Labour leader spoke to Bennett on Friday and Bennett "didn't want to reconsider". But Little planned to write to Bennett about the case today.
Unite Union organiser Joe Carolan, who is supporting the students, spoke to English about the issue at the Big Gay Out in Auckland yesterday. A video posted on Facebook shows that English was non-committal but shook Carolan's hand at the end of the brief exchange.
Vicar-General of the Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington, Monsignor Gerard Burns, speaking for Cardinal Dew, said the Government changed immigration rules to let several hundred Filipino dairy farm workers stay in New Zealand in 2015 after similar fraud by their immigration agents.
"This is a change of practice and an inconsistency of practice," Burns said.
He said Christians believed in welcoming and caring for "the orphan, the widow and the stranger in the land".
Anglican Church Primate Archbishop Philip Richardson said he spent two years at a seminary in India in the 1980s and understood how being deported would affect the students.
"The families will have invested a lot of pride in these students," he said.
"In our context the equivalent would be a sense of whakama, or shame, having let your family down.
"You have to come back into family networks where a lot of hope had been placed on you, and a lot of resource for some of the families. For some of them a significant sacrifice had been made and you have let them down, you have brought shame on the family."
The statement was also signed by Methodist Church NZ president Reverend Prince Devanandan.
Meanwhile Unitarian Church Minister Reverend Clay Nelson said his church was offering the students "radical hospitality, "a willingness to invite all people into your house as if they were Christ.
"It's a hard thing to pull off because it's against human nature, 'birds of a feather'. Diversity requires getting out of your comfort zone so it's not an easy undertaking," Nelson said.
"So that's how we are looking at this symbolic sanctuary. It's radical hospitality."
A spokeswoman for Woodhouse and Bennett said the ministers had nothing further to add to Woodhouse's previous comments on the issue.