Skip to main content

Sanctuary

By Susan Bibler Coutin
University of California, Irvine
Flickr
 As campuses, restaurants, churches, and cities nationwide have adopted sanctuary policies to protect students, employees, customers, and residents from President Trump’s ramped up efforts to deport members of immigrant communities, it is worthwhile to consider how the lessons of the 1980s sanctuary movement might apply to today’s advocacy work.  Between 1986 and 1988, I conducted participant observation within sanctuary communities in Tucson, Arizona and the San Francisco East Bay in California. At that time, sanctuary focused on obtaining refuge for asylum seekers who were fleeing U.S-funded wars in Central America.  I attended sanctuary events, volunteered with the movement, and interviewed over 100 participants, leading to publication of my 1993 book, The Culture of Protest:  Religious Activism and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement. 
            Congregations that declared themselves sanctuaries during the 1980s were motivated by a sense of emergency. Civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala had led to death squad activity, assassinations, disappearances, torture, and widespread displacement, yet the United States, which was funding Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments, denied Central Americans’ asylum applications at a rate of 97-99%.  Religious activists who met Central Americans felt compelled to take action.  One participant told me, “When I met Central American refugees face-to-face, it was transforming.  When I heard their stories, when I saw them cry, it was gut-wrenching for me.  I knew I had to do something.”  Though the movement took its name from the prototypical practice of housing an asylum seeker within a congregation, sanctuary workers also organized vigils and demonstrations, publicized human rights violations, prepared asylum applications, assisted border crossers, lobbied Congress, raised bail bond money, and provided social services. The movement was also transnational in that U.S. activists traveled to Central America to accompany at-risk communities, while Central Americans also took on leadership roles within the movement.  
Sanctuary work challenged existing power structures.  U.S. movement members were prosecuted for alien smuggling and conspiracy and some Central American participants were placed in deportation proceedings. Though sanctuary has sometimes been characterized as civil disobedience, movement members argued that they were practicing civil initiative, that is, taking actions to enforce international and U.S. refugee laws that their government was violating.  Their legal efforts had long-term impacts.  In 1997, Congress passed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which, in the long run, allowed Salvadorans and Guatemalans who had sought asylum during the 1980s to become lawful permanent residents.
The fact that communities are once again resorting to declaring themselves sanctuaries is a sign of the dire sense of emergency experienced by many noncitizens. As was the case in the 1980s, sanctuary today takes multiple forms, ranging from efforts to integrate immigrant populations to policies that limit local police agencies’ collaboration with federal immigration enforcement.  These practices also challenge power structures, as evidenced by the Trump administration’s threat to prevent sanctuary jurisdictions from receiving federal funding.  As was the case in the 1980s, sanctuary today transcends borders through both international collaborations and the leadership of immigrant-activists. And, just as sanctuary practices in the 1980s led to unforeseen outcomes in the 1990s, so too are today’s actions likely to shape the course of law and policy in ways that cannot now be predicted.

Popular posts from this blog

On writing

By Susan Sterett
Law & Society Review Co-Editor

One thing I know for sure after having co-edited Law and Society Review for almost three years is that just about every college and university would like more publications from faculty members. Many colleges and universities around the world want people to write for peer-reviewed journals, so like other journals, Law and Society Review has been getting an increasing number of submissions. Some journals have big backlogs. Some journals have stopped accepting submissions. Everyone is overwhelmed with content. How can you prepare your paper for LSR? This post will point to a few resources that could help, based in my experience from editing, conversations with other editors, and my conversations at the wonderful 2017 sociolegal studies early career workshop at the University of Cape Town. All have made me rethink how I submit to journals.

A few thoughts, most of which are readily found on the internet. Even so, many people may no…

Law & Society Review is pleased to announce two opportunities for scholars who are from or who write about the Global South. Both opportunities have early January deadlines.

The first opportunity is the Sociolegal Studies Early Career Writing Workshop, March 21-23, 2019, at the University of Cape Town. This intensive workshop, co-sponsored by Law & Society Review, is for a small group of early career scholars from any university in Africa to receive feedback on papers in progress and mentoring on writing/publishing processes. The goal is to help one another toward writing goals and publication. The Workshop will cover travel expenses and accommodation. Applications (including draft paper and letter of reference) are due January 14, 2019. For details, please visit the Early Career Workshop website here. For additional questions, contact pbl-cls@uct.ac.za.

Another opportunity is the Law and Society in Africa conference, April 1-3, 2019, organized by American University Cairo's Law & Society Research Unit. The first Law and Society in Africa Conference, held in South Africa in 2016, was a great success, with more than 100 attendees…

Thank You to our 2017 Reviewers

This journal would not exist without the many reviewers that contribute their time and energy to providing our authors with excellent feedback. Many thanks the following people who provided reviews in 2017.
Abel, Richard. Abraham, David Abrams, Jamie R.Abrego, LeisyAdams, TraceyAddler, LibbyAdediran, AtinukeAguiar-Aguilar, AzuleAhmed Zaki, HindAlbonetti, CelestaAli, ShahlaAliverti, AnaAlygaon Darr, OrnaAmaral-Garcia, SofiaAmorim, MarianayAnderson, Irina Anderson, KristinAnderson, Leslie E.Anleu, Sharyn RoachAriel, BarakAnleu, Sharyn RoachArmaly, MilesArmenta, AmadaArthur, RaymondArthurs, HarryArtis, Julie E.Asad, AsadAsh, ElliottAshford, JoseAshok, KrithikaAspinwall, MarkAtwell, Mary W.Augustine-Adams, KifAugustyn, MeganAviram, HadarAyano, MekonnenBaar, CarlBailey, Michael A.Baird, VanessaBaker, David V.Baker, ThomasBakiner, OnurBall, JeremyBallucci, DaleBarak, Gregg Barker, VanessaBarlow, AngelaBartels, BrandonBattalora, JacquelineBaum, LawrenceBaumgartner, FrankBaye, TemesgenBaz…