In the 1980s, some American churches defied federal law by harboring undocumented immigrants from deportation to their war-torn Central American home countries. Several pastors were arrested and put on trial. At its height, between 400 and 500 churches were involved in what came to be known as the “sanctuary movement.”
Today, the Trump administration’s immigration policies — the proposed building of a border wall, the crackdown on undocumented workers — have prompted a revival of the sanctuary movement. After Donald Trump’s election, organizers reported a near doubling in the number of congregations involved, either through the providing of services or housing of undocumented immigrants. And the movement has broadened beyond its original Christian and Jewish participants to include Muslim communities.
Here are some trends in the “new sanctuary movement” reporters should watch:
- The movement is broadening beyond its original Christian and Jewish participants to include Muslim communities.
- Some groups are building or renovating houses and apartments away from their churches or synagogues to house undocumented immigrants.
- There are now so many participants in the new sanctuary movement that regional “clusters” are being formed to foster cooperation.
- Some participants are organizing secret transport to deliver the undocumented to Canada in a kind of contemporary underground railroad.
This edition of ReligionLink provides reporters with resources to cover the ongoing new sanctuary movement, which has now spread to every state and most major American cities.
- Listen to “Sanctuary Churches: Who Controls the Story,” a March 29, 2017, podcast from NPR.
- Read “Churches answer call to offer immigrants sanctuary in an uneasy mix of politics and compassion” by Andrea Castillo for the Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2017.
- Read “New twist for deportation opponents: sanctuary in the streets,” by Harry Bruinius for The Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 2017. The takeaway: an overall good backgrounder on the new sanctuary movement.
- Read “Bishops’ stances vary on sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation” by Catholic News Service, March 6, 2017. The takeaway: Catholic response to the Trump administration’s immigration orders shows little sign of unity.
- Read “Houses of Worship Are Re-Creating a Decades-Old Support System to Protect Immigrants” by Matt Cohen and Alexa Mills for the Washington City Paper, March 2, 2017. The takeaway: Congregations in the Washington area are organizing to support local undocumented immigrants in defiance of the Trump administration’s orders.
- Read “Be Careful How You Offer Sanctuary” by Jane Eisner for the Forward, Feb. 28, 2017. The takeaway: Eisner thinks involving synagogues in the new sanctuary movement will politicize religious life.
- Read “Churches increasingly feel need to offer sanctuary to undocumented migrants” by Holly Meyer of The Tennessean, printed in USA Today, Feb. 22, 2017. The takeaway: Churches are linking the action to their social justice mandate.
- Read “The Sanctuary Movement, Then and Now” by Judith McDaniel for Religion & Politics, Feb. 21, 2017. The takeaway: McDaniel traces the foundation laid in the 1980s for the current movement.
- Read “Can churches provide legal sanctuary to undocumented immigrants?” by Jason Hanna for CNN, Feb. 17, 2017. The takeaway: a look at the laws and legal ramifications for congregations that provide sanctuary.
- Read “Does the Bible really advocate sanctuary cities?” by James Hoffmeier for Religion News Service, Feb. 15, 2017. The takeaway: Hoffmeier argues it is not biblical to offer undocumented immigrants sanctuary.
- Read “On becoming a sanctuary: Five points for Catholic institutions to consider” by Jim McDermott for National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 1, 2017. The takeaway: Scholars look at church, federal and state laws to navigate a path for — or against — sanctuary.
- Read “Inside the New Sanctuary Movement That’s Protecting Immigrants From ICE” by Puck Lo for The Nation, May 6, 2015. The takeaway: a look at the sanctuary movement under the Obama administration.
The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy’s Journalist’s Resource gathered 12 studies on immigration to the U.S.
Laws, orders and government documents
Trump executive orders relative to immigration:
- March 6, 2017.
- Jan. 25, 2017.
- Immigration and Nationality Act — makes it illegal to knowingly harbor an undocumented immigrant.
- Apprehension and Detention of Aliens Act — permits the arrest of undocumented immigrants.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement action regarding “sensitive locations” — names places ICE agents should avoid, such as churches, hospitals and schools.
Organizations and groups
The Center for Immigration Studies is a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C. Many of its researchers have concluded that current high levels of immigration are harming the country. The organization says it’s not anti-immigrant, however; instead, it favors a policy of fewer immigrants but a “warmer welcome for those who are admitted.” Mark Krikorian is executive director.
Jessica Vaughan, its director of policy studies, has advised congregations against becoming sanctuaries.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which has 70,000 Episcopalians in 136 neighborhood congregations and mission centers, is historically one of the five most populous and culturally diverse of the Episcopal Church’s 109 dioceses. In 2016, its members voted to become a sanctuary diocese. Its Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service offers services and assistance throughout Los Angeles. Contact the Rev. Frank Alton.
The Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition includes seven of Colorado’s faith communities working together to provide sanctuary. Two congregations host immigrants; five support their efforts. Member congregations are listed here. They work with the American Friends Service Committee. Media contact is Jennifer Piper.
The Massachusetts Communities Action Network is a network of faith communities throughout the state that works for social justice and is participating in the sanctuary movement through PICO. Janine Carreiro-Young is deputy director.
The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is a coalition of about 20 groups, including churches, synagogues and ministries, that provide sanctuary and support to immigrants in the Philadelphia area. Peter Pedemonti is the group’s co-founder and director.
Sanctuary DMV is a network of congregations that protects immigrants and targeted communities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Its website contains resources and toolkits related to the sanctuary movement. Contact the network through this form.
Sanctuary Not Deportation is a national umbrella organization dedicated to organizing local faith communities in the new sanctuary movement.
National sources (individuals)
The Rev. Noel Andersen is the national grass-roots organizer for Church World Service in Washington, D.C., and works to encourage church participation in the sanctuary movement. He is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor.
The Rev. John Fife retired in 2005 after serving 30 years as pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. Fife works with humanitarian programs, including Humane Borders, that provide food, water and medical care for migrants crossing the Arizona desert. He is co-founder of the immigrant rights group No More Death.
James Hoffmeier is professor of Old Testament and ancient near eastern history and archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. He’s also the author of The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible.
Hoffmeier wrote a column for Religion News service titled “Does the Bible really advocate sanctuary cities?,” which discusses the foundations of the notion of sanctuary in Christian Scripture.
Judith McDaniel teaches law and religion at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her interests include religion, law and gender.
McDaniel wrote an essay for Religion & Politics about the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, of which she was a part.
The Rev. Bryan Pham is an assistant professor in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He practices immigration law at Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic and is the chaplain to Loyola Law School.
Phan can discuss the legal ramifications for houses of worship that shelter people on their property.
Stephen Yale-Loehr is a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y. He is co-author of Immigration Law and Procedure, a treatise on U.S. immigration law, and was the founder and original director of Invest in the USA, a trade association of EB-5 immigrant investor regional centers.
The Albuquerque Friends Meeting House is currently housing an undocumented immigrant. Quakers have no appointed clergy. Church member Rachel Brackbill can handle questions from the press.
All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C., is in a neighborhood with many Central American immigrants. Two weeks after President Trump’s inauguration, it joined the new sanctuary movement and helped organize other local congregations as well. Contact the Rev. Robert Hardies.
Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia is housing an undocumented immigrant. Contact Margaret Harris.
Lincoln United Methodist Church in Chicago is housing an undocumented immigrant. The Rev. Emma Lozano is pastor.
Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., has participated in the sanctuary movement since its first wave in the 1980s. In addition to continuing to house undocumented immigrants, it organizes other congregations throughout the nation in the new sanctuary movement. The Rev. Alison Harrington is pastor.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dorchester, Mass., is a member of its local sanctuary movement group and is hosting an undocumented immigrant. The Rev. Edwin Johnson is the lead pastor and Savannah Hauge is the church’s sanctuary coordinator.