Magazine article New Internationalist

When Sanctuary Is Resistance

Magazine article New Internationalist

When Sanctuary Is Resistance

Article excerpt

In the United States in the 1980s, the simple act of providing refuge became a form of civil disobedience.

With Washington supporting death-squad governments in Guatemala and El Salvador, a flood of refugees moved north, creating a humanitarian crisis. Immigrants crossing the border into the US from Mexico were perishing in the desert. Yet the Reagan administration refused to grant asylum to those facing persecution from the regimes it had backed in Central A merica.

Religious congregations resisted. As part of a broader solidarity movement, people of faith began harbouring refugee families in their churches and homes. The sanctuary movement was born.

As journalist Edwin Guthman later wrote in the New York Times, 'Their efforts grew into a modern 'underground railroad'. By the mid1980s, more than a dozen activists had been prosecuted on charges of 'transporting and harbouring illegal aliens'. Nevertheless, the movement rapidly spread, eventually encompassing some 400 churches nationwide. Sanctuary advocates also spearheaded legal efforts that ultimately allowed thousands of migrants to remain.

Three decades later, in the era of Trump, providing sanctuary may again qualify as a radical stance.

Today, the great majority of America's 11 million undocumented immigrants are not recently arrived refugees fleeing war. Instead, they were displaced by poverty and corporate globalization; they came seeking a better life for their families. Many have lived here for decades, and they make vital contributions to the economy. Some young adults who were brought to the US as small children have never known another home.

Trump has focused his rhetoric on denouncing those with criminal records. But under current executive mandates, offences as minor as traffic violations or presenting an employer with a bogus social security number - unavoidable for many trying to enter the formal economy - are grounds for deportation.

In fact, in rightwing parlance, all who reside in the US without proper documentation are known simply as 'Illegals', a label that provides cover for racism and dehumanization.

Allying with America's most extreme xenophobes, Trump has explicitly taken aim at immigrantfriendly cities. Since the 1980s, the religious principle of sanctuary has come to be associated with a broader set of public policies. …

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