Sanctuary Communities offer spiritual, moral, and/or physical respite for anyone facing deportation.
Faith Communities as Safe Refuge:
ICE began a new wave of raids in January 2016, especially targeting new-arrivals since January 1, 2014. Many of those targeted are the Central American women and families who have sought asylum here from terror and violence. We are calling on congregations to open their doors to individuals and families who have a final deportation order and may be a target of these ICE raids. We call on faith communities to provide what they can, including Safe Haven, Physical Sanctuary, or support for a faith community providing either of these to families facing deportation.
Congregations Can Act as Temporary Safe Havens
They can offer centers for respite and updated information, spaces of refuge, and if need be, overnight shelter, until there is word that the raids have passed. This could be a night, a week, or a few weeks.
Faith Communities Can Provide Long-Term Physical Sanctuary
This generally lasts until migrants facing deportation can win their case and leave the religious sanctuary premises safely.
An Ancient Tradition of Faith Communities
Sanctuary is one of the most ancient traditions that we have as a people of faith. The ancient Hebrew people allowed temples and even whole cities to declare themselves places of refuge for persons accused of a crime, a practice that allowed those wrongfully accused or facing unjust punishment to escape swift and harsh retribution until the matter could be resolved. In the late Roman Empire fugitives could find refuge in the precincts of Christian churches. Later during the medieval period, churches in England were recognized sanctuaries, offering safe haven for a temporary period to accused wrong doers. In the United States the first practical provision of anything like sanctuary occurred in the years before the Civil War. The Underground Railroad came into being to help slaves flee the South and find safety in many congregations throughout the country. In the early 1970s faith communities opened their doors to conscientious objectors who had been drafted to the Vietnam war.
The Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s
When refugees from the Civil Wars in Central America began to flee to the United States in the late 1970s, the U.S. government did not recognize them as political refugees seeking asylum. Many were deported and received by death squads, and murdered upon their return. From this dire injustice, the Sanctuary Movement was born. It peaked with over 500 congregations establishing an underground railroad whereby asylum seekers moved through the United States to safe houses and safe congregations in Canada. Sixteen clergy and lay leaders in the Tucson area were indicted. Eight of them were convicted but served no time. for their involvement in assisting Central American refugees. The Sanctuary Movement sought to remind the United States government of our core values and hold up the truth, that the US was directly supporting with arms, money and training the dictatorships and death squads of Central America. The Sanctuary Movement won the inclusion of Central Americans in our asylum laws as part of the 1986 immigration reform law. It is because of courageous truth tellers from Central America and the Sanctuary Movement who followed them that Central Americans today can claim asylum.
The Sanctuary Movement in the 2000s
In 2007, as Congress was considering a Comprehensive Immigration bill that would have given legal status to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, deportations continued, and the New Sanctuary Movement was created. It aimed to protect immigrants from anywhere who might get legal status under the new law if they were still here when it was passed. Unfortunately, as of 2016, Congress has been unable to pass legal reform, so the need for the New Sanctuary Movement continues. In contrast to the 1980s Movement, the New Sanctuary Movement does not hide "sanctuary families"—instead, it publicizes their stories to educate citizens to the inhumanity of the dysfunctional immigration process and advocates for reform. Accordingly, the definition of "sanctuary" is broadened to include providing moral, spiritual, and practical support to immigrants whom the government deems to be deportable under the current immorally harsh laws, whether or not they are in imminent danger of detention or deportation. A "sanctuary congregation" may provide legal help, accompaniment to immigrants as they must report to ICE or attend court hearings, give counseling, and/or generally provide a "safe space" for temporary respite in stressful times—as well as full physical sanctuary when necessary, to house those faced with imminent deportation without such protection.