Sanctuary movement 2.0

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:

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.


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:

Organizations and groups

  • Center for Immigration Studies

    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.

    Contact: 202-466-8185.
  • Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

    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.

  • Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition

    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.

  • Massachusetts Communities Action Network

    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.

    Contact: 617-982-8129.
  • New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia

    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

    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

    Sanctuary Not Deportation is a national umbrella organization dedicated to organizing local faith communities in the new sanctuary movement.

National sources (individuals)

  • Noel Andersen

    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.

  • John Fife

    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.

  • Judith McDaniel

    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.

  • Bryan Pham

    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.

    Contact: 310-338-7445.
  • Stephen Yale-Loehr

    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.

Sanctuary providers