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date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

In the spring of 1982, six faith communities in Arizona and California declared themselves places of safe harbor for the hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans and Guatemalans that had been denied legal proceedings for political asylum in the United States. Alleging that immigration officials had intentionally miscategorized Central Americans as “economic migrants” in order to accelerate their deportation, humanitarian organizations, legal advocates, and religious bodies sought alternatives for aid within their faiths’ scriptural teachings and the juridical parameters offered by international and national human rights and refugee law. Known as the sanctuary movement, this decade-long interfaith mobilization of lay and clerical activists indicted the US detention and deportation system and the country’s foreign policy initiatives in Latin America as morally bankrupt while arguing that human lives, regardless of documentation status, were sacred. In accusing the United States of being a violator of both domestic and international refugee legislation, subsequently exposing hundreds of thousands of people to persecution, torture, and death, the movement tested the idea that the country had always extended welcome to victims of persecution. Along with a broad network of anti-interventionist and humanitarian aid organizations, sanctuary galvanized more than 60,000 participants in 500 faith communities across the nation. By the 1990s, the movement had spurred congressional action in support of Central American asylees and served as the model for a renewed movement for sanctuary in support of undocumented Americans in the 21st century.

Keywords: social movement, religion, politics, Latinas/os, refugees, immigration

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