Immigrant Rights and Political Economic Asylum
The Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s
Political refugees are usually seeking liberation from economic tyranny, as well as the political oppression behind their economic plight. For example, in the 1980s the Central American Governments of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala drove the indigenous peasants off their ancestral lands—by force, often deadly force. Therefore, the oppressed people had to seek a political economic asylum; there are instance of political asylum without the corresponding need for economic relief, but those cases are exceptional, even rare.
Other Central American countries in the 1980s could offer neither an economic nor a political option. The nearest option for political economic asylum would be the United States, if not for the fact that the Reagan Administration policy of denial and its persistence dollars, which backed the right-wing Central American Governments under the pretext of the U.S. Cold-war. Thus, the Reagan policy deemed the flight of the peasant refugees as merely in economic self-exile, which would deny them safe-haven in the United States. The policy prevailed even in the face of evidence of numerous cases of executions of the deported on return to their despotic countries. In fact, El Salvadoran para-military execution of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the four Catholic Sisters as volunteers from the United States—had no effect on the U.S. policy, arms supply and related funding.
A huge response, starting in cities nearest to the Mexican border, such as Tucson, an outpouring of churches in the U.S. responded to the crisis. Seeing the Reagan policy as fomenting the violation human rights and international law, many of these courageous churches invoked the ancient principle of sanctuary; this type of sanctuary has its roots in the ancient Judeo-Christian social teachings, in the Roman Law of All Nations and the Right of Sanctuary found in the Medieval Canon..
The Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s defied the restrictive and contradictory U.S. Federal Immigration Policy and rules designed to prevent asylum for Central Americans. At its peak, Sanctuary involved over 500 congregations across the country that made their churches shelters, with provisions and legal counsel to Central American refugees. Denominations committed to the movement include: Baptist, Catholic, Jew, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ. Movement members acted in open defiance of Federal law. In the mid and late 1980s, many leading Sanctuary figures faced arrest and trial for their "crimes" of compassion and decency.
The movement became the 1984 winner of the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. The Sanctuary movement continues into the 2000s by the movement of churches and other houses of worship to shelter immigrants in danger of deportation.
The tactic of Sanctuary in the 1980s was one of a necessary secrecy of the concealed whereabouts of the Central Americans in sanctuary. Secrecy was justified in the context of the power of the Reagan agenda and the life and death consequences at stake. Today, in contrast yet equally dramatic, transparency is the tactic of The New Sanctuary Movement, which continues to be largely an organized network of churches that facilitate this effort. Add to this, the current central theme of the interfaith alliance as the widening coalition of faith and charity-based institutions, which reflects the multicultural centrepiece of immigration and asylum for political/economic refugees worldwide.
The New Sanctuary participants see their action as in compliance with the law. In a sense, sanctuary is a compassionate detention center in lieu of pending court action. The transparent, clear and open window of the New Sanctuary
- defies the current practice of a policy, which is likely as ill-conceived, un just and in violation of international law as the 1980s policy that denied asylum
- in its open defiance, brings with it the confidence that the action of sanctuary is valid and justified, and
- allows the sanctuary to serve as a compassionate surrogate to the harsh condition of apprehension and detention.
Thus far, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has yet to "storm" a New Sanctuary house. This fact says much about how Sanctuary is speaking its truth to and demanding justice and participatory democracy from power, so-called in the narrow sense. ICE and the judicial system in general, may see the mutual benefit the New Sanctuary in its the economic service as an extension infra-structure, which the New Sanctuary movement provides—at no cost to the taxpayer.
- preferably employed or seeking employment in the U.S.,
- a immigrant with no criminal past in the U.S. or country of origin (which excludes the crime so-called of illegal alien status)
- preferably, an immigrant who has a dependant family in the U.S., and
- the immigrant should be willing to speak about their plight to others, the media and the justice system. The New Sanctuary Movement estimates that at least 600,000 people in the United States have at least one family member in danger of the harsh conditions of detention and eventual deportation.
The refugees of Central Americans in the 1980s faced a life and death context. The Sanctuary Movement responded to that dire context with a great and corresponding expression of support. For the New Sanctuary Movement, the stakes are seldom in terms of life and death, yet the human suffering is still obvious. The new movement is smaller, less visible and muted by the louder clamour of anti-immigration. And the anti-immigrant argument, when voiced in rational terms does have important points to make. However, underlying the entire issue of the immigration of workers and working families is the essential need to place the appropriate accountability for the crisis at the feet of the actual architects and perpetuators—rather than the victims of the unjust economic policy, which increasingly fails to meet the needs of workers and family worldwide.
Besides that, the economic data shows that the economic activity of immigrant workers amounts to a net gain in GDP in which all economic actors gain. An economy does, however, need to have a system of checks and balances on the flow of workers into the work force. The City of Oakland, California is proactive in its campaign to set the record straight about immigrant workers. The mass transit stations and kiosk, for example, have info-graphic displays of the actual economic gains that immigrant workers contribute; in addition, the city-sponsored information dispels the myths that the angry mob of opposition have spun over the years about immigrants.
Los Angeles: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Equality: CLUE in LA
Oakland: Working East Bay: Workers and Communities Building Power
San Diego: The Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice of San Diego County
San Jose: Working Partnerships USA
Simi Valley, CA: The United Church of Christ: the UCC in Simi Valley, CA
Boston: The Greater Boston New Sanctuary Movement: a broad coalition of twenty churches—The New Sanctuary Movement is a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and participating congregations, called by our faith to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States.
Chicago: Chicago Religious Leadership Network for Latin America: The Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition
Indianapolis: Disciples Home Mission: Refugee and Immigration Ministries
Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee New Sanctuary Movement
New York City: The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City — an interfaith network of congregations, NGO, and individuals, standing publicly in solidarity with families and communities resisting detention and deportation in order to stay together. We recognize that unjust global and systemic economic relationships and racism form the basis of the injustices that affect immigrants. We seek reform of United States immigration laws to promote fairness, social and economic justice.
Oregon: The Oregon New Sanctuary Movement (ONSM) is an interfaith coalition of individuals, faith leaders and congregations, called by our faith and conscience to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States. We are committed to lifting up the voices of our immigrant brothers and sisters, working for just and humane immigration reform, and the transformation of the social and economic systems that perpetuate the poverty in immigrants’ home countries that drives much of the migration to the US. * — A comprehensive approach to and model of immigration reform
Seattle: The Washington New Sanctuary Movement — an interfaith group committed to publicly protecting the rights of all immigrants, especially those at risk of deportation and whose families face unjust separation. Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Faith based communities, Churches as sanctuary, Sanctuary City, sanctuary cities, Gang Of Eight, DREAM Act, Secure Communities, E-Verify, Border Patrol, Immigration
Question: Is there a New Sanctuary house in South Florida? It is rumoured (but only with broken linkage), and other Sanctuary houses may exist but are cloaked in the "old school" 19800s sanctuary of secrecy due to the climate of ICE, which, after all, was formed in 2002 the —grim and tense post-9/11 days— as the immigration enforcement arm of Homeland Security. Today, ICE is allowed or assumes its power to contract-out its detention jails to private companies that have a limited oversight from the public and our judicial system.
The American Friends Service Committee : The Quakers continue to lead the way from their involvment through their work freeing slaves via the Underground Railroad
National Alliance for Immigrants' Rights: Advocates for the legal status of all illegal immigrant workers in the United States pending Congressional enactment of a comprehensive immigration reform. Sign the NAIR petition for U.S. Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families