"We see this as, in some ways, the Holy Family standing in for the nameless families," the Rev. Karen Clark Ristine, the church's lead pastor, told the Times. "We've heard of their plight; we've seen how these asylum seekers have been greeted and treated. We wanted the Holy Family to stand in for those nameless people because they also were refugees."
"What if this family sought refuge in our country today?" Ristine wrote in a Facebook post.
Inside the church, the family is reunited in a separate nativity scene, according to NBC News.
Ristine has been the church's lead pastor since July. She told the Times the church often uses its nativity scene to address an issue that impacts society. Past depictions addressed California's homeless crisis, the pastor told the newspaper.
This year’s scene has sparked some debate within the Claremont community.
"I appreciate it as a First Amendment issue. I respect the religiosity of it ... but it's a leap," resident Rudy Barbee told KABC.
On Facebook, opinions were divided.
“Clearly this pastor needs to read the Bible again or possibly for the first time as to why Joseph was traveling back to Bethlehem,” one poster said.
“Profound statement. Thank you for standing up for those who have no voice,” another poster wrote. “This is not ‘using’ the nativity scene. This is a perfect artistic rendition of Jesus’ teachings. I’m truly grateful.”
"It was nice for me to see that people wanted to talk with one another, even though they disagreed," Ristine told KABC. "So, if this sparks conversation that would be one good goal."