Two key precepts have always found some form of expression in religious traditions across the ages: One is that we love our neighbor by welcoming the stranger, and the other is that the sacred ground of a house of worship cannot be violated by secular authorities. These two teachings came together in the United States in the 1980s as a range of religious groups began providing safe havens in churches and temples for Central American refugees who were forced to flee their countries but were denied protection by the U.S. government. The “sanctuary movement,” as this came to be known, endured for about a decade, until U.S. policy toward these refugees changed.
Today, in response to a renewed crackdown on undocumented immigrants in workplace raids and deportations, the so-called “New Sanctuary Movement” is again taking root in congregations across the Judeo-Christian spectrum, but now it also comprises Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist groups and individuals as well.
Launched in 2007, the New Sanctuary Movement stretches from Massachusetts to Washington state, with 35 different networks in at least 10 states. The Associated Press estimated earlier this year that there are at least 13 undocumented immigrants currently receiving physical sanctuary at congregations around the country. Thousands more immigrants – illegal and legal – have been aided by the movement with clothing, food, money and legal counseling. Among the movement’s main goals is a more compassionate U.S. immigration policy.
But the New Sanctuary Movement is not embraced by all religious groups and individuals. And the movement itself has yet to face a concerted challenge from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has so far refrained from bringing charges against participating congregations. How far will this New Sanctuary Movement grow? Will it, like its first incarnation, succeed in changing U.S. immigration law? Or will it fail to gain a hearing as Americans scramble for increasingly scarce jobs?
Why it matters
The commitment to religious principles and the battle for them in the public sphere have led to massive social changes in the U.S., including the abolition of slavery, the birth of the civil rights movement and the fight to end legal abortion.
Places of worship have offered protection in the form of sanctuary to those sought by the law since ancient times. The Hebrews had six sanctuary cities, and the Greeks sought sanctuary in the temple of Diana at Ephesus. In the Middle Ages, anyone entering a church was considered under the protection of God, a status that trumped the interests of the state.
Religious groups in the U.S. revived the idea of church-based sanctuary in the 1980s to protect Central Americans, especially Guatemalans and Salvadorans, who fled violent upheaval in their countries. Most were ineligible for political asylum because their countries were U.S. allies. About 500 churches were involved nationwide, and 16 activists were indicted. Eventually, the U.S. changed its policy on amnesty for refugees from these countries.
In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which requires local governments to cooperate with federal authorities. Many cities and towns have ignored the law, becoming “sanctuary cities” – places where local law enforcement and municipal officials do not ask residents about their immigration status or allocate public funds to comply with the law. There are now sanctuary cities in 30 states.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (Under “Search bill text,” enter bill number “S 1348”) would have smoothed a path to legal status and citizenship for the nation’s approximately 12 million undocumented aliens. The bill, supported by John McCain, failed to pass. About this time, the New Sanctuary Movement blossomed, in response to what involved activists saw as growing hostility toward immigrants, both documented and undocumented.
- The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University hosted a conference in March 2008 titled “Religion, Migration and Foreign Policy: Tensions in Immigration and Immigrant Integration.”
- Read two previous ReligionLink tips on immigration and religion: “Immigration: Legislation dies, debate thrives” (July 16, 2007) and “Religion informs immigration debate” (updated Oct. 12, 2006).
The fall 2008 issue of Reflections, the magazine of Yale Divinity School, is titled “Who Is My Neighbor?” and is dedicated to the issue of immigration. It has a range of articles on the topic from a variety of religious perspectives.
Read an Oct. 26, 2008, article in the Ventura County Star about the New Sanctuary Movement in California.
- Read an Associated Press article dated July 12, 2008, about immigrants seeking sanctuary in churches. It’s on the Web site of The Christian Post.
- Read a July 8, 2007, USA Today article about the New Sanctuary Movement and the different kinds of sanctuary it provides, including legal assistance, food and clothing.
- Read a July 20, 2007, article in Time magazine about whether the Bible supports sanctuary for illegal immigrants.
Groups that Support the New Sanctuary Movement
- Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice is an interfaith network of 600 Los Angeles area religious and lay leaders who focus on the working poor, including illegal immigrants. Gary Phillips is the interim executive director and Diana Mendoza is its New Sanctuary Movement organizer. Contact 213-481-3740, or email Phillips at email@example.com and Mendoza at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is a group of faith-based organizations that work for immigration reform and justice. Its umbrella covers 500 national and local faith-based organizations and individuals and includes Mennonite, Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Quaker and Unitarian groups. Contact through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Interfaith@hias.org.
- Interfaith Worker Justice is a network of religious people who work to improve conditions and wages for workers, including illegal immigrants. Its Web site includes a set of religious perspectives on work. Kim Bobo is executive director. Contact 773-728-8400 ext.13, email@example.com.
- New Sanctuary Movement is a national newsletter and blog that links different religious groups and congregations involved in the New Sanctuary Movement. The newsletter editor is David Thurston. Contact 202-966-5144, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Groups Opposed to the New Sanctuary Movement
- Americans for Legal Immigration is a grass-roots advocacy group in favor of reducing illegal immigration through the enforcement of law. It is based in Raleigh, N.C. William Gheen is president. Contact 919-787-6009, email@example.com.
- The Federation for American Immigration Reform is a nonprofit group that advocates for immigration reform, including heightened border security, revised immigration levels and a halt to illegal immigration. It advises city and state officials and activists against sanctuary policies in the belief that they are illegal and counterproductive to immigration reform. Its Web site sketches a history of noncompliance with immigration law, including the sanctuary movement. It also lists local immigration groups for many states. Its president is Dan Stein. Contact 202-328-7804.
- The Immigration Reform Law Institute is the legal arm of FAIR (see above) and describes itself as a public interest law organization working to protect U.S. citizens from injuries and damage caused by illegal immigration. It is based in Washington, D.C. Kris W. Kobach is its chief counsel. Contact 202-232-5590.
Other Religiously Motivated Immigrant Aid Groups
- Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform is a coalition of Christian groups and individuals seeking changes in U.S. immigration policy that they feel will be more in line with biblical principles of social justice. They signed a statement of their beliefs and goals in 2007. Contact Jason Gedeik, 202-745-4633, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Justice for Immigrants is a project of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, a part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is a coalition of many Catholic groups. Contact Kevin Appleby, email@example.com.
Secular Immigrant Aid Groups
- The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a coalition of local immigrant, refugee, religious, civil rights and labor organizations that work to uphold and expand the rights of immigrants and refugees. Catherine Tactaquin is executive director. Contact 510-465-1984 ext. 302, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Migration Policy Institute is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that studies migration issues and U.S. immigration policy. Its National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy maintains a “data hub” with information on migration patterns to the U.S. and on immigrants living here and elsewhere around the world. Contact via Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications, 202-266-1910, email@example.com.
- Kevin Appleby is policy director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, which maintains the Justice for Immigrants program. He can discuss the New Sanctuary Movement in historical terms of the religious community’s involvement in aiding immigrants. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Roy Beck is CEO and founder of Numbers USA, an Arlington, Va.-based group advocating a reduction in immigration to the United States. Beck spoke on a panel at the September 2008 RNA conference. Contact through Peter Robbio, 703-683-5004 ext. 116, email@example.com.
- Kim Bobo is the founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, which works with faith communities to provide sanctuary and support for illegal immigrants. She is the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid – And What We Can Do About It (2008). Contact 773-728-8400 ext.13, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Clayborne Carson is a history professor and founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. He is an expert on the interface between faith and social justice. Contact 650-723-2092, email@example.com.
- Muzaffar Chishti is director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University’s School of Law. He has been critical of the New Sanctuary Movement for its failure to distinguish between civil and criminal immigration cases. Contact Muzaffar.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rabbi Michael Feinberg works with the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition. He has described providing sanctuary for immigrants as an act of “radical hospitality,” in line with the religious principle of welcoming the stranger. Contact 212-406-2156 ext. 4637, email@example.com.
- Gregory Freeland is an associate professor of political science at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and director of its Center for Equality and Justice. He is familiar with the organization, goals and spread of the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact 805-493-3694, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- William Gheen is president of Americans for Legal Immigration, which is based in Raleigh, N.C. The organization does not support providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants. Contact 919-787-6009, email@example.com.
- Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo is a sociology professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and has studied the New Sanctuary Movement. She is the author of Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. Contact 213-740-3606, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Donald Kerwin is vice president for programs at the Migration Policy Institute and is former executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops project that provides legal support for immigrants through local Catholic diocesan programs. Contact via the institute’s director of communications, Michelle Mittelstadt, 202-266-1910, email@example.com.
- Kristin Kumpf is the assistant organizing director of the Interfaith Worker Justice program and coordinates its activities in the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact 773-728-8400 ext. 43 or 773-391-8811 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Peggy Levitt is an associate professor of sociology at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., and author of God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing American Religious Landscape (2007). She says the current movement is part of a broader trend of the church returning to its progressive roots. Contact 781-283-2186, email@example.com.
- Margie McHugh is co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Contact via communications director Michelle Mittelstadt, 202-266-1910, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ira Mehlman is media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that is against sanctuary policies. Contact 202-328-7804.
- Doris Meissner is a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. She was formerly a commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which oversaw immigration before the establishment of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in 2003. Contact email@example.com.
- Nancy Morawetz is a professor of clinical law at New York University. She is an expert on immigration and teaches courses on immigrant rights clinics. She can discuss the U.S. system of detention and deportation. Contact 212-998-6451, firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, D.C., enforces U.S. immigration law. Contact via the national press office, 202-732-4242.
Daniel Okada is an assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University Sacramento. He is co-chair of the Justice Studies Association’s 2009 conference, which will partly focus on the New Sanctuary Movement and other contributions of religious congregations to the plight of illegal aliens. Contact 916-278-5286, email@example.com
- The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is an evangelical and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He supports the idea of providing aid and assistance to all immigrants but is not supportive of churches providing physical sanctuary to illegal immigrants. Contact via Lissette Correa, 916-821-2759.
- The Rev. Alexia Salvatierra is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-California. She has been active in the New Sanctuary Movement and can discuss its organization on the national and local level. Contact 213-389-5440, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia Thorne is immigration counsel for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She consults with churches and presbyteries on immigration legal issues; provides education on immigration from theological, historical, legal and policy perspectives; and works within the denomination to highlight how immigration is related to areas within the church. She also works with grass-roots groups around the country on advocacy for immigration reform. She does not actively promote the New Sanctuary Movement but is able to discuss the benefits of sanctuary cities. Contact 502-569-5372, Julia.email@example.com.
- Dustin Gold is co-founder of the Community Watchdog Project of New Haven, Conn. One of its goals is to abolish illegal immigration. Contact 888-9 CWDOGS ext.2, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie is pastor of Arlington Street Church, a Unitarian Universalist church in Boston. The congregation joined the New Sanctuary Movement this summer. Contact 617-536-7050.
- Steve Kropper is co-director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform. He has spoken against local churches in the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact 617-306-9312, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Sue Spencer is interim pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury in Danbury, Conn. The church’s congregation voted to join the New Sanctuary Movement earlier this year, making it the first church in the state to do so. Contact 203-798-1994, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Fred Boehrer is with the Albany Catholic Worker and presented a paper titled Crossing Boundaries: Immigrants and the New Sanctuary Movement at the 2008 meeting of the Justice Studies Association. Contact 518-482-4966, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz is the founding director of Asociación Tepeyac, an immigrant community services agency in the Bronx, N.Y. He is the northeast coordinator of the New Sanctuary Movement and is involved with local sanctuary networks. Contact 347-563-3483, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Rev. Donna Schaper is senior pastor at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. The church voted to become a member of the New Sanctuary Movement in 2007. Contact 212-477-0351.
- Chuck Baldwin is founding pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. He has written that his church would not take part in any sanctuary movement because he believes illegal immigrants are criminals. Contact 850-944-3544.
- David Martin is a nonresident fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and a professor of international law at the University of Virginia in Charlotte. Contact 434-924-3144, email@example.com.
- Manuel Vásquez is an associate professor of sociology and religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville who specializes in the ways in which Latino immigration affects American communities. He participated in a conference on the New Sanctuary Movement at the King Center in Atlanta in 2008. Contact 352-392-1625, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keron Blair is director of the New Orleans office of Interfaith Worker Justice and can discuss local congregations that aid immigrant workers. Contact email@example.com.
Rodney Hunt is president of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, a Jackson-based group that seeks immigration reform. Contact 601-894-2215.
Doug Roy is president of Kentuckians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, an organization that supports the enforcement of current U.S. immigration laws. Contact 859-312-9421.
- The Rev. Rick Behrens is pastor of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kan., and a founding member of the Immigrant Justice Advocacy Movement, which is related to the New Sanctuary Movement. He says that those in the movement are enacting the words of Scripture to love the stranger and are doing what Jesus said should be done for “the least of these.” Contact 913-371-6431, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Michael Brennan led a workshop on the New Sanctuary Movement for the Midwest Interfaith Immigration in Columbus, Ohio. The workshop was organized by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and was the most widely attended of the weekend. Contact 614-747-3662, Michael@firstuucolumbus.org.
- Sylvia Castellanos is president of the Coalition for the Rights and Dignity of Immigrants in Cincinnati. She has met with Ohio congregations to offer information sessions about the plight of illegal immigrants. Contact 513-260-6080.
- Dave Gorak is executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, which is based in LaValle, Wis. He is critical of the New Sanctuary Movement and its supporters. Contact 608-985-7864, email@example.com.
- Rosanna Pulido is the founder and leader of the Chicago and Illinois chapters of the Minuteman Project. She has spoken against Chicago churches that have sheltered illegal immigrants. Contact 773-250-3399.
- John Wozniak is a professor and chairman of the sociology department at Western Illinois University in Macomb. He is president of the Justice Studies Association, where the 2009 annual conference will focus on “Immigration, Sanctuary, Worlds Without Borders.” Contact 309-298-1056, JF-Wozniak@wiu.edu.
- Msgr. Arturo Bañuelas is pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in El Paso, Texas. The church has sheltered illegal immigrants as part of the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact 915-772-8430.
- The Rev. John Fife was pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., when he was one of eight people, including a Catholic priest and a nun, convicted of federal immigrant smuggling for their involvement in the original Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s. He lives in Tucson and is now affiliated with No More Death, a group that helps immigrants crossing the desert. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Rev. Larry Graham-Johnson is interim pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. The church was the birthplace of the original Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s. Its congregation is considering participating in the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact 520-623-6857.
- Alberto Rodriguez is the founder of You Don’t Speak For Me!, a grassroots collective of Latino activists who oppose illegal immigration. He has spoken against illegal immigrants and those who support them. He lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. Contact via Mariann Davies, 267-981-9017.
- The Rev. Liana Rowe is a United Church of Christ minister and an organizer with Interfaith Worker Justice in Phoenix, Ariz. She is a longtime immigrant rights activist and coordinates a New Sanctuary Movement network across the state. Contact 602-692-4813, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Carol Been is a senior organizer for Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-California in Northern California. She is based in San Jose. Contact 831-239-1254, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Alana Marie Burke is a columnist for the Record Searchlight in Redding, Calif., who has editorialized against the New Sanctuary Movement and sanctuary cities. Contact email@example.com.
- Rabbi Laurie Coskey is based in San Diego, Calif., and works for the Interfaith Worker Justice. Coskey is also a member of the steering committee of the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact 619-584-5744 ext. 22 or 858-231-9933 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Rev. Wiley Drake is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif. He is also the official chaplain of the California Minutemen, a group that patrols the state’s border with Mexico. He has been critical of groups that support illegal immigrants. Contact 760-361-5771.
- The East Bay Sanctuary Covenant is an organization of faith-based groups in the Berkeley, Calif., area that have pledged to provide sanctuary and other assistance to immigrants. Contact 510-540-5296.
- The Rev. Richard Estrada is an associate pastor at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles. He is on the media committee of the New Sanctuary Movement. Contact email@example.com.
- Shawna Forde, based in Washington state, is the head of Minutemen American Defense, a group that patrols the U.S.-Canadian border in search of illegal immigrants. She has spoken against groups that support illegal immigrants. Contact 425-356-2032.
- Joan Helland is a member of the San Diego Friends (Quaker) Meeting, which is involved in the New Sanctuary Movement and is currently supporting at least one immigrant. Contact 619-255-2304, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights is a California-based group of more than 1,000 congregations, denominations, organizations, lay and religious leaders throughout the state dedicated to welcoming the stranger. Contact 415-227-0388.
- The Rev. Mark Knutson is senior pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore. His church is one of two in the city involved in the New Sanctuary Movement. He has said his congregation would house an immigrant if the person needed sanctuary. Contact 503-288-6174.
- The Rev. Phil Lawson is a United Methodist minister and co-founder of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in Berkeley, Calif. The alliance is committed to changing U.S. immigration policy on the grounds that it is racially and economically discriminatory. Contact 510-849-9940.
- The Las Vegas chapter of Mormons for Equality and Social Justice has embraced the New Sanctuary Movement on its blog. Email through the Web site.
- Chelene Nightingale is the leader of Save Our State, a California-based group that protested outside a Simi Valley United Church of Christ church that provided sanctuary to an illegal immigrant and her child. Contact email@example.com.
- Michael Ramos is executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He has helped organize a New Sanctuary network in that area. Contact 206-525-1213 ext. 3950 or 206-456-6263 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rabbi Jonathan Singer is senior rabbi at Temple Beth Am, a Reform Judaism congregation in Seattle that participated in the sanctuary movement of the 1980s and plans to do so again. Contact 206-525-0915 ext. 217, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Reginald Swilley is a member of the steering committee of the New Sanctuary Movement. He is based in San Jose, Calif. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.