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United States of America: Information on an organization called Sanctuary that provides haven for refugees, particularly Latin American ones, and whether the organization is legal

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 June 1995
Citation / Document Symbol USA20462.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, United States of America: Information on an organization called Sanctuary that provides haven for refugees, particularly Latin American ones, and whether the organization is legal, 1 June 1995, USA20462.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad7f30.html [accessed 28 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

 

Information on an organization in the United States called Sanctuary could not be found among the sources consulted by the DIRB. However, as indicated below, various sources refer to a sanctuary movement that has assisted Latin American refugees in finding protection in the United States.

A staff member of the National Sanctuary Defense Fund in San Francisco, California, provided the information that follows (6 June 1995).

Sanctuary or sanctuary movement does not refer to a specific organization; rather, it is a generic name that refers to groups and religious congregations that work or have worked to provide sanctuary in the United States to persons in need of it. However, some groups may include the term sanctuary in their name, as is the case of the National Sanctuary Defense Fund.

The sanctuary movement has consisted almost exclusively of churches and synagogues, and it has primarily helped mostly Central American refugees. At present, there are groups that continue to be involved in providing sanctuary to persons in need. However, with changes in legislation and circumstances, both in the United States and in countries such as El Salvador, some of the groups involved in the sanctuary movement have diminished their activity, while others broadened their scope to include advocacy of refugee and immigrant rights.

People involved in providing sanctuary to persons in need have been indicted and, in some cases, convicted to prison terms. The first such case was in Arizona in 1984. The source did not know of any new indictments and convictions against persons for their involvement in the sanctuary movement in the 1990s.

According to a program officer at the United States Committee for Refugees (USCR), the sanctuary movement began in the 1970s and 1980s as a spontaneous activity, consisting mostly of community churches, to protect Central American refugees (5 June 1995). The various churches and groups that provided or helped find sanctuary eventually began communicating, organizing and coordinating efforts (ibid.). Although noting that the 1980s were a particularly active period for the sanctuary movement, the source was unsure of the current status of the movement.

A project officer at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) stated that sanctuary movement is the generic name for a movement that peaked in the 1980s, and that "in a sense" still exists today (5 June 1995). The movement's main concern has been to secure a safe haven to people, mostly Central Americans, who have escaped strife and dangerous situations in their home countries and risked repatriation from the United States (ibid.).

Please find attached the table of contents and excerpts from the book Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad (1986). The book describes the origins and work of the United States sanctuary movement. A reference to an organization specifically called Sanctuary or Sanctuary Movement could not be found in the book; however, the book portrays the sanctuary movement as a network of groups working for a common cause. The attachment indicates that the movement apparently began with similar simultaneous efforts by church groups, stating that "the movement was patched ... the weave was loose, open" (ibid., 53). The book suggests that the work of the groups was clandestine, as it largely consisted of smuggling or helping aliens avoid detention and deportation by state authorities. However, a prominent figure of the movement reportedly stated that "there was no point in secrecy: the INS and FBI, through their extensive surveillance and phone taps, knew everything we were doing" (ibid.). The same person stated that

The decision was made to keep everything in the open, to allow the public to see as clearly as possible what sanctuary was and who was involved in it. But this did not preclude caution and security efforts to protect refugees from arrest, especially when they were en route to a sanctuary. To date no refugee has been taken from a sanctuary of the railroad and deported (ibid.).

The same document adds that

The best protection was media publicity,. Jim [Corbett] "Be simple but audacious." FBI intimidation, surveillance, and the arrest of railroad "conductors" would not occur for two years. By then the organization had learned that it would not be its mistakes, but its successes, that would draw fire from government authorities (ibid.).

The book reports that the sanctuary movement expanded from 30 "sanctuaries" in 1982 to 3,000 in 1984 (ibid.). The document cites a 1983 statement by a religious leader declaring that

The national headquarters of People United to Serve Humanity (PUSH) in Chicago joins with more than three thousand churches and communities of faith all over America who support 160 sites offering sanctuary to the innocent victims of war and oppression ... We are going to create a network as great as the underground railroad that brought slaves to freedom more than one hundred years ago ... (ibid., 54).

Another book, The Northern Route, refers to the "Sanctuary Movement" as having helped a family of Salvadorans seek refuge in Canada after staying illegally in the United States (1990, 114). Later in the text, the same source names "Hospitality for Salvadoreans" as the "church support group" that actually helped the family (ibid., 115). The document states that many "illegal refugees" are or have been "in church and synagogue sanctuaries, helped by ordinary Americans who have shown great courage in acts of civil disobedience, since it is illegal for them to harbour undocumented persons" (ibid., 116).

Also attached, please find an article entitled "Sanctuary and the state" (Contemporary Crises 1987, 279-301). The article describes the sanctuary movement in the United States and its problems with law enforcement agencies, including the indictment of "sanctuary workers" under charges of criminal conspiracy aimed at smuggling and sheltering aliens (ibid., 280). The source states that "from the organizational point of view, the basic strength of the movement rests on its over 70,000 supporters and 400 churches, primarily 'main-line' in denomination" (ibid., 286).

For additional details, please consult the attached documents.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Philadelphia, PA. 5 June 1995. Telephone interview with project officer.

Contemporary Crises [Dordrecht, the Netherlands]. No. 11. 1987. Charles Stastny. "Sanctuary and the State."

National Sanctuary Defense Fund, San Francisco, Calif. 6 June 1995. Telephone interview with staff member.

The Northern Route: An Ethnography of Refugee Experiences. 1990. Lisa Gilad. St. John's, Nfld.: Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad. 1987. Renny Golden and Michael McConnell. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

United States Committee for Refugees (USCR), Washington, DC. 5 June 1995. Telephone interview with program officer.

Attachments

Contemporary Crises [Dordrecht, the Netherlands]. No. 11. 1987. Charles Stastny. "Sanctuary and the State," pp. 279-301.

The Northern Route: An Ethnography of Refugee Experiences. Lisa Gilad. St. John's, Nfld.: Memorial University of Newfoundland, pp. 114-16.

Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad. 1987. Renny Golden and Michael McConnell. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, pp. iv-v, 31-62, 165-66.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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