This essay considers the historical roots of contemporary sanctuary practices. It traces these roots in the protocols adopted by the 1951 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Convention, tracing the contradictory implementation of these protocols in US policy and practice. It argues that the UNHCR Convention created a distinction between refugees and migrants that met challenges from sanctuary activists responding to the depredations of the US-backed “dirty wars” in Central America during the 1980s. The sanctuary movement contested this distinction, as did the subsequent evolution of immigration and refugee policy. In the current period, the erosion of this distinction by ascendant xenophobia also creates space for the emergence of new definitions and practices of the right to sanctuary and freedom of movement.
During the spring of 2018, a caravan of Central Americans assembled on the Mexico–Guatemala border and began walking toward the United States. The caravan was one of a series organized by the Pueblo Sin Fronteras collective, which is based in California and Tijuana. The collective stated that its purpose is to accompany “migrants and refugees in their journey of hope and together demand our human rights” (emphasis in original). Invoking the human rights of migrants and refugees together, the collective implicitly challenged sixty years of international and state policy toward itinerant peoples.1
Pueblo Sin Fronteras promoted the status of the caravan as a matter of international law. Describing itself as “refugee-led,” the organization invoked the historic 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its 1967 Protocol to claim human rights and status for its members as asylum seekers.
Calling itself Via Crucis Migrantes, or the Migrants’ Way of the Cross, the caravan walked from Central America to the United States. Like the 2017 caravan by the same name, the march was timed to coincide with the Christian Holy Week. Its name echoed the title of a 2006 book by liberation theologian Gioacchino Campese, The Way of the Cross of the Migrant Jesus. Campese derives a notion of “crucified peoples” from Central American liberation theology and applies it to contemporary undocumented migrants.2
Pueblo Sin Fronteras links the global struggles of migrants and refugees, citizens and denizens, against militarized immigration and policing. A letter from the Palestinian Stop the Wall Campaign to the caravan connects the flight of Central Americans from violence and poverty to the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Both, the letter asserts, are the fallout of repressive imperial practices, including decades of US military intervention and exploitative trade policies, which Israel has consistently supported. The campaign’s offering of solidarity also imagines a world without walls as an internationalist project, one that simultaneously refuses state-enforced distinctions between migrants and refugees. The letter hailed the caravan: “We salute your March of the over 1500 migrants that challenge US racist and exclusivist migration policies that stop the people from crossing borders, depriving them of their basic rights to freedom of movement and rights as refugees.”3
Caravan participants defy distinctions between migrants and refugees. They do this implicitly through their collective migration and presence at the border as well as explicitly through their public statements. In their March 23 statement, caravan members identified themselves as “citizens” and demanded that international refugee rights protocols be recognized:
To Mexico and the United States we demand:
Respect our rights as refugees and our right to dignified work to be able to support our families.
Open the borders to us because we are citizens, just like the people of the countries where we are or travel to.
That the rights the nations of the world have signed, including the right to freedom of expression, be respected.
That the conventions on refugee rights are not empty rhetoric.
The borders are stained red because there, the working class is killed!4
By broadcasting their status as refugees and migrants, Pueblo Sin Fronteras and caravan members upend legal distinctions separating those deserving and not deserving of refuge. The statement explicitly invokes an internationalist class critique and attributes the state violence taking place at the border to the inequities of global capitalism.
Despite the caravan’s rhetoric about human rights, the Trump administration treated the migrant caravan as an aggressive invasion of “criminal aliens.” They proceeded as if migrants carried the very instability they fled in Central America, as if it were a contagious social disease instead of a historically created condition. This rhetorical strategy deployed the xenophobia mobilized during the 2016 presidential election to defend “national sovereignty” against an imagined horde of hostile invaders and potential terrorists. This strategy continued throughout the spring and summer of 2018, demonizing the second caravan just in time for the midterm elections in November. Rarely using the term “refugee,” this rhetorical strategy tended to use the term “migrants,” “criminal aliens,” or “illegal aliens.”5
In response to the approach of the Via Crucis Migrantes, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement an enhanced, “zero tolerance,” policy of criminally prosecuting undocumented entry. The criminalization of migration has long separated families. But stricter enforcement under “zero tolerance” dictated that adults entering with children be immediately taken into the criminal court system and separated from each other, stoking international scandal during the summer of 2018. Further, US officials threatened to prosecute undocumented parents for “endangering” their children by “smuggling” them into the country. None of these official responses used the word “refugee.” Premising its response on a long-standing discourse of “invasion” by undocumented immigrants, the DHS ignored human rights claims, treating asylum seekers as unauthorized entrants. By refusing the caravan’s language of refugee human rights, the zero tolerance policy effectively conflated asylum seeking and undocumented entry.6
The arrival of the Via Crucis Migrantes caravan at the US–Mexico border and the subsequent mustering of zero tolerance against them highlight the ongoing erosion of distinctions between refugees and migrants recognized by international law since 1951. As this distinction withers, conditions for asylum seekers degrade. At the same time, this erosion creates space for emergent definitions created by social movements.
Migrant caravans challenge the walls built by global racial capitalism by demanding safe harbor, or sanctuary, for Central Americans fleeing the depredations of empire. Groups of migrants travel together for protection and solidarity. Their rhetoric, a grassroots semantic jujitsu that insists on defining citizenship and refuge from below, is part of a broad practice which some advocates have begun to call “sanctuary everywhere.”7 While the depredations of this historical moment are widespread, “sanctuary everywhere” articulates its possibilities of solidarity and refuge.8
Sanctuary can denote both broad aspiration and specific practices; it draws on religious roots as well as internationalist imaginings. Meanings and practices of sanctuary change in relation to the dynamics of international and national law. The broad, emancipatory conceptualization of sanctuary that has evolved since 2016 represents a resurgence of internationalist possibilities repressed by discourses and practices purporting to advance “human rights.” “Sanctuary” becomes not only a specific place in a church or other building but a set of practices by which people come into relations of accompaniment and solidarity.
This essay examines the historical relationship between practices of sanctuary and the juridical terms “refugee” and “migrant.” I argue that these three terms shape and transform one another. As an emergent practice, sanctuary sometimes occupies the space just beyond what is possible to articulate in legal terms. At other times, it exists between juridical possibilities of refuge and deportation, adapting to the exigencies of conditions on the ground. I return to the freighted possibilities of the current moment at the end of the essay.
To trace a history of sanctuary practices, I begin with the “human rights moment” of the immediate post–World War II era, using the term “sanctuary” as a heuristic to examine foundational discourses of displaced persons and refugee rights, as well as the function of established nations and new nations like Israel in delimiting them. The essay then proceeds to examine the historical context of the founding of the US sanctuary movement at another moment of imperial formation: the revival of Cold War foreign policy imperatives during the US-backed “dirty wars” in Central America during the 1980s. Finally, I return to the present to attend the broadcasts of the contemporary sanctuary movement, monitoring the potential for harbor and solidarity they might portend.
Between Sovereignty and Sanctuary: Refugees, Migrants, and Citizens, 1945–55
In 1949, German Jewish émigré philosopher Hannah Arendt addressed a crisis in the post–World War II European landscape: “The problem of statelessness on so large a scale had the effect of confronting the nations of the world with an inescapable and perplexing question: whether there exist such ‘human rights’ independent of all specific political status and deriving solely from the facts of being human?”9
Arendt referred to the question of the “last million” gravely impacted by World War II—“displaced persons,” in the term newly coined by the US military. Debate about displaced persons animated controversy during the Allied powers’ occupation of Germany and the founding of the United Nations. Despite resettlement campaigns by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), one million people remained unwilling or unable to be returned to their nations of origin by 1946. Many of those officially designated as displaced persons, or DPs, wandered the countryside. Globally, millions of people who, because they were not direct victims of Hitler or Stalin, did not qualify for the term lacked the ability to return safely home as a result of the war.
The emergence of the juridical figure of the refugee represented a limited response to the European displaced persons crisis. Given traction by the newly formed United Nations, international human rights law wrestled with the displacements of the Holocaust and war. Through the framework of sanctuary and sovereignty, we might say that emergent liberal human rights internationalism attempted to institute safe harbor for displaced persons outside the arena of national law. But this emergent refugee regime met limits in the militarization of the early Cold War, which promoted strong national borders over human rights. Concerned with national security, individual nations deployed the developing distinction between migrants and refugees to exclude the former and delimit the latter.
The harbor created by postwar human rights law occupied a key contradiction between national sovereignty and internationalism. UN refugee policy underwrote the right to seek asylum but deliberately stopped short of any potential infringement of national sovereignty, declining to guarantee the right to be granted asylum in any specific country. Therefore, the “right to have rights,” in Arendt’s framing, affirmed by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, remained subordinate to the political interests of individual nations. Because signatory nations were left to define refugee admissions as well as citizenship requirements, refugees were guaranteed neither entrance nor ongoing rights to safe harbor. Individual nations retained the freedom to redefine people who saw themselves as asylum seekers. When Tijuana mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum asserted his opposition to Central Americans arriving in November 2018, claiming that “human rights should be reserved for righteous humans,” he gave voice to this enduring contradiction.10
In the context of an ascendant Cold War global order that emphasized national security against the threat posed by internationalism, particular nations carefully inspected refugees as prospective citizens. Screening them for entry fell outside of international jurisdiction because it was considered to be an aspect of national sovereignty. Human rights, as conceptualized by postwar theorists like Arendt as well as by emerging international law, came to rely on the shelter of national citizenship.11
The United Nations carefully defined the conditions that entitled individuals to claim asylum and set up protocols to determine who could be considered a refugee. The UN Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees (1951) defined refugees as those displaced
owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.12
The creation of the juridical figure of the refugee as potential rights-bearing citizen in international law also implicitly engendered the emergence of the category of migrant, entitled to far less. As the postwar refugee regime humanized particular categories of displaced persons, it excluded others, creating potentially violent hierarchies of belonging.13
The devastation of the European Holocaust made Jews symbolic figures in the emergence of the postwar refugee regime. The founding of the state of Israel—“a country without a people for a people without a country,” in Jewish Zionist Israel Zangwill’s paraphrase of nineteenth-century Christian Zionists—represented, to the former Allies, a strategic solution to the problem of Jewish displaced persons after the war. But locating refuge for one population in the founding of a sovereign, ethnically delimited nation resulted in further displacement and the loss of the Palestinian “right of return” to long-held ancestral lands. Establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and the resulting nakba (Arabic for “disaster”) of Palestinian displacement resulted in the founding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1949. Although it was intended as a temporary response to the crisis of 1948, UNRWA continues to respond to the ongoing exigencies of Palestinian displacement into the present day. Just as the emergence of the refugee in international law also resulted in the displacement of those deemed “migrants,” the founding of the state of Israel as a safe harbor for Jews displaced by the violence of World War II occasioned violent dispossession of Palestinians.14
In the United States, the McCarran-Walter (Immigration and Nationality) Act of 1952 constituted a limited response to the emergence of the global refugee regime. The law allowed for the admission of refugees, in particular those fleeing communist regimes, at the same time as it reinstated national-origin quotas designed to curtail the arrival of migrants from Asia, Africa, and southern and eastern Europe. It established legal grounds for the admission of refugees at the same time as it certified a key distinction in US law between “political” refugees seeking freedom and “economic” migrants driven by personal gain. Articulating this division between deserving and undeserving immigrants, the McCarran-Walter Act drew on a long, racialized history of nativist public policy distinguishing between what historian Mae Ngai calls “impossible subjects” and potential citizens. After the passage of the McCarran-Walter legislation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor of ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement), wasted no time in inaugurating Operation Wetback, a massive, militarized operation at the US–Mexico border and in Mexican American communities in the Southwest and California intended to deport migrants racialized as “illegal aliens.”15
The collision of international law with the displacements caused by immigration enforcement and national borders indicates the freighted semantic emerging between “refugees” and “migrants.” As Palestinians became refugees, Jewish refugees became Israeli citizens. While Operation Wetback failed to “clean up” the problem of undocumented border crossing, the INS public relations campaign surrounding it succeeded in broadcasting the term “illegal alien” into mass media coverage of migrants at the US–Mexico border, which persists in its deleterious effects on foreign-born communities into the present era. The terms “refugee” and “migrant,” then, are both historically created and interdependent.16
The post–World War II refugee regime was not the first articulation of an internationalist rights discourse, nor was it the only one extant at the time. Postwar hopes for the United Nations coexisted with alternative internationalist models that represented decades of struggle across continents. Historian Gerald Cohen explains that many liberal internationalists like Arendt heralded the creation of the UNRRA in 1943 as “the first blueprint of the postwar order”: a more humanitarian, internationally cooperative world. Imagining worlds based on international solidarity instead of national security, such blueprints propose alternate outlines of sanctuary for all.17
Like Pueblo Sin Fronteras, internationalist advocates for worker rights after 1945 recognized the emergent regime of global border control as an imperial project, serving the interests of settler-colonial nation-states and the ascendant global power of the United States. Instead of distinguishing between refugees and migrants, these internationalists promoted an idea of universal rights that did not depend on national borders. While they did not use the word “sanctuary,” these advocates envisioned categories of belonging beyond the purview of national security regimes. As the pseudonymous Jewish writer L. Rock wrote in opposition to British policy in Palestine in the late 1930s, the solution was “struggle against Zionism, against Arab national exclusivism and anti-Jewish actions, against imperialism, for the democratization of the country and its political independence.”18 In the immediate postwar period, such internationalist imaginings provided antic alternatives to locating refuge within securitized national borders.
The postwar ascendance of Zionism after the war foreclosed a long, many-stranded Jewish tradition: what Jacob Plitman describes as “diasporism.” Throughout the Jewish diaspora, many theorized a collective Jewish identity that would ensure safety but not depend on the formation of an ethnically specific nation. The international socialist labor bunds, in another example, envisioned international worker rights that paralleled the coalition work of the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born (ACPFB) described below. The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 affixed Jewish safety to citizenship in the nation-state, at the expense of Palestinian sovereignty as well as alternative internationalisms.19 At the same time as the founding of Israel foreclosed alternate ideas about Jewish safety, US Cold War political formations displaced insurgent, internationalist ideas of rights.
In November 1945, 217 Indonesian maritime laborers articulated their criticism of borders as mechanism of imperial control. They left their British and Dutch ships in New York Harbor, because, as a spokesman explained to the media, “the ships were carrying munitions and supplies to murder their families in Indonesia.” Refusing to stay in midtown Manhattan because of their awareness of white supremacy in the United States, the sailors found harbor in Harlem, where they received a hero’s welcome. When their shore leaves expired, many were detained at Ellis Island, because Asian-exclusion immigration laws precluded their legal entry. Effectively stateless in New York City, these Indonesian sailors allied themselves with African Americans against white supremacy, relying on international solidarity to protect them and guide them to safe harbor.
Around the world, ship and dock workers protested the detention of Indonesian sailors in New York and Australia. A coalition of labor, immigrant rights, and national organizations fought their deportations. Because of this international advocacy, the sailors were eventually able to return to the Indonesian Republican authorities through the Red Cross station at Batavia three years before the Dutch conceded defeat by Indonesian National Revolution in 1949. International solidarity kept them out of immigration detention at Ellis Island and allowed for their return to a homeland emerging from centuries of colonial domination.20
Many Greek maritime laborers found themselves in a position similar to the Indonesian sailors after the war. While they did not experience the racial barriers to entry that faced Asian sailors, many left-leaning Greek sailors feared returning to their country after the end of the Greek Civil War resulted in the rise of the right-wing, US-backed Alexandros Papagos regime. This regime detained, exiled, and executed many former partisans who had fought the Nazi occupation of Greece. Like the Indonesians, Greek sailors found support from a coalition coordinated by the ACPFB. This coalition lobbied for the rights of Greek, Indonesian, and other displaced sailors as global workers. As Joseph Curran of the National Maritime Union put it in 1946, “the alien brother’s problem is not a separate problem. It is a union problem.”21
Drawn from a combination of labor unions as well as anti-imperialist, immigrant rights, and ethnic organizations, the coalition representing displaced maritime laborers anticipated contemporary sanctuary formations. Advocates proposed an anti-imperial, internationalist idea of universal rights. Significantly, these internationalist advocates argued for the extension of US labor law to cover “the alien brother,” effectively extending US labor rights to all workers on US ships, regardless of their citizenship status. The maritime labor coalition embraced a labor internationalism that would provide national labor protections to noncitizens, regardless of their status as refugees or migrants.
The coalition supporting maritime labor rights gained some traction in mainstream US politics, although it was eventually defeated by the rise of the “flag of convenience” system, which effectively offshored shipping ownership. As a component of international maritime capitalism, the flag-of-convenience system deployed US imperial influence in Panama, Liberia, and Honduras to shelter US-owned ships from national labor laws. Shipping interests then invoked the national sovereignty of these countries in defense of this system. Just as human rights law was delimited by UN recognition of the imperatives of national security, shipping interests used imperial maneuvers to defeat the insurgent internationalism of universal worker rights.
The newly inaugurated refugee regime after World War II succeeded in gaining international recognition of refugee status. But these efforts found their limits at the borders of national sovereignty and an emergent imperial, Cold War order dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. This postwar refugee regime elevated one cohort of displaced persons to the newly created status of refugee. But because national sovereignty limited the power of insurgent international law, the status of refugee did not ensure safe harbor. Further, acknowledging the vulnerable position of refugees indirectly resulted in the widespread degradation of migrants’ rights, as the refugee regime assumed that nonrefugee migrants were not justified in leaving their homelands and therefore lacked entitlement to rights and protections. The semantic divide between migrants and refugees in US public discourse and policy eventually necessitated the creation of alternate terms and practices creating safe harbor for those displaced from their homelands.22
Dirty Wars: Refugees, “Aliens,” and the Sanctuary Movement, 1980–87
“Counterrevolutionary repression has led to vast refugee populations. . . . To grant Salvadorans or Guatemalans political asylum would be to admit that repressive systems are in effect in their homelands—systems funded by U.S. tax dollars.”—Rosemary Radford Reuther23
“What the campesinos are doing is only just,
and you should always be at their side.
What the National Guard is likely to do is unjust.
If they attack, you should be there next to the campesinos.
Accompany them. Take the same risks they do.”—Archbishop Oscar Romero24
“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for them as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”—Leviticus 19:33–3425
The United States delayed ratification of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, finally signing off on the subsequent United Nations Protocol in 1967. Between 1945 and 1980, US refugee policy did not align fully with the lofty, yet limited, ambitions proposed by international law. Instead, domestic refugee admissions operated through a disparate series of congressional actions and presidential initiatives that responded to particular situations, such as the displaced persons crisis immediately after World War II or the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The watershed Refugee Act of 1980 articulated “a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern.” It created a refugee track in INS admissions, which relied on congressional consultation as well as annual presidential determination of the number of refugees to be admitted. For the first time, the Refugee Act implemented provision for migrants already in the country to claim asylum.26
Promoted by the Carter administration as a humanitarian program, the Refugee Act of 1980 took effect at a time of renewed Cold War polarization. Under the Reagan Doctrine, national security operatives fomented and aided forces they deemed “counterinsurgent” around the world, from Afghanistan to Angola to Cambodia. Like the previous Truman and Eisenhower Doctrines, the Reagan Doctrine understood national liberation and socialist reform movements as exclusively coordinated by and beneficial to the Soviet Union. Proponents of this Cold War distinction were able to draw on an antecedent distinction between political refugees and economic migrants. Those fleeing despotic regimes friendly to the United States in Haiti or El Salvador were categorized as “economic migrants,” while those fleeing communist adversaries in Cuba or Czechoslovakia had far greater chances of receiving asylum.27
Under the Reagan Doctrine, the United States poured money and matériel into fighting both elected regimes and popular insurgencies in Central America through counterinsurgency strategies, including torture and domestic repression. This period is often described as the “dirty wars,” a term originating in French counterinsurgency campaigns in Vietnam and Algeria but applied specifically to Latin America starting with Argentina in the 1970s. The term describes a counterinsurgency campaign carried out by secret police and military security forces against a popular uprising. These campaigns often entail the torture and murder of noncombatants, precipitating displacements that also engender new forms of counterinsurgency.28
As agrarian labor organizing provoked extreme repression in El Salvador and precipitated civil war in 1979, the United States backed the counterinsurgency campaigns of successive right-wing dictators against a coalition of popular organizations known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). With the aid of US money and advisors, the regimes of Roberto D’Aubuisson and José Napoleón Duarte waged war on popular organizations, including the Catholic Church. Rural “pacification” campaigns featured the bombing of the countryside and the deaths of thousands of civilians. US aid to El Salvador depended on congressional recertification of human rights practices every six months. Somehow, the regime managed to pass this scrutiny each time. Under Secretary of State Alexander Haig, diplomats red-baited US nuns murdered in 1980, lied about military brutality and civilian casualties, or suffered the consequences of testifying to the truth by being fired and discredited. Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s designated Central American expert, repeatedly welcomed death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson to Washington, disavowing his crimes.29
In Guatemala, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deployed the newly devised tactic of fomenting political coups. Fresh from the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, agents worked to replace the popularly elected Jacobo Árbenz with the despot Carlos Castillo Armas in 1954, precipitating a decades-long civil war. Powerful American politicians, such as Allen Dulles, the first civilian head of the CIA (1953–61) and his brother, presidential advisor John Foster Dulles, had vested interests in the United Fruit Company, which owned vast banana plantations in Guatemala. With CIA assistance, authoritarian regimes maintained the inequitable land distribution favorable to United Fruit, repressing indigenous and trade union resistance. Although the Carter administration cut off aid to Guatemala, military and counterinsurgency officers continued to train in the United States. And once Carter left office, the Reagan administration funneled money to the regime for covert operations.30
When US support for the dirty wars encountered domestic opposition in the form of congressional inquiries and popular protests, Israel worked as a proxy in the region, providing arms and advisors. Despite the state of Israel’s history as a refuge for Jewish displaced persons, the nation played a key role in the creation of Central American refugee migration. Proxy support for right-wing regimes in Central America was a component of its long-standing alliance with the United States. Further, these activities assuaged an Israeli sense of political isolation resulting from the United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, operative from 1975 to 1991. Israel also responded to allegations of global terrorist networks linking left-wing insurgencies in the region to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Accordingly, Israeli strategists shared counterinsurgency tactics designed for Palestine.
Guatemalan military leaders like Efraín Ríos Montt spoke openly about the “Palestinianization” of Mayan Indians in the Guatemalan highlands. Israel offered Latin American right-wing regimes arms confiscated from the PLO for the cost of shipping. Israeli advisors helped craft a Salvadoran and Guatemalan rural pacification plan aimed at destroying the power of indigenous and peasant cooperatives that used the model of the kibbutz to relocate and remodel rural life there. Colonel Eduardo Wohlers directed the Guatemalan “Plan of Assistance to Conflict Areas,” described by researcher George Black as follows: “Agriculture holds the key to Israel’s current role. In it [there is] an interlocking mosaic of assistance programs—weapons to help the Guatemalan Army crush the opposition and lay waste to the countryside, security and intelligence advice to control the local population, and agrarian development models to construct on the ashes of the highlands.”31
Supported by the United States and Israel, the dirty wars in Central American resulted in massive civilian casualties as well as the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees. As Rosemary Radford Reuther explains above, escalating migration from Central America was a consequence of US foreign policy. But the Reagan administration’s interpretation of refugee policy allowed few Central Americans to qualify for refugee status. In 1983, the enduring policy distinction between migrants departing supposedly friendly regimes and refugees fleeing totalitarianism resulted in 2 percent of Salvadorans who applied receiving asylum, in contrast to 82 percent of Afghan, 74 percent of Iranian, and 30 percent of Polish applications. In 1984, 97.5 percent of Salvadorans who applied for asylum were rejected. Central American refugees were caught between the imperatives of international humanitarianism toward refugees, partially ratified in the Refugee Act of 1980, and the exigencies of Reagan Doctrine foreign policy, which described the regimes they fled as democratic.32
While it recognized the humanitarian importance of refugee admissions, the Refugee Act of 1980 maintained the Cold War prerogatives of the McCarran-Walter Act. Asylum seekers had to prove “credible fear” to an administration charged with believing that particular regimes were compliant with human rights standards. Those who could not pass muster were considered mere migrants to be deported for undocumented crossing or detained on reaching ports of entry. Typically, those fleeing regimes backed by or friendly to the United States are rarely recognized as refugees. They are classified instead as “economic migrants,” seeking to better themselves, but not experiencing the “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their nations of origin. The historical distinction between the reception of Cuban and Haitian refugees illuminates this contradiction: Cubans fleeing the Castro regime have been welcomed as freedom seekers escaping communism, whereas Afro-diasporic Haitians leaving the US-backed despotism of François “Papa Doc” and Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier have been termed “economic migrants” and returned to face their fates in Haiti. In addition to being freighted by US alliances with particular regimes, the contrast between the national welcome of predominantly light-skinned Cubans and the deep ambivalence and punitive response to darker-skinned Marielitos and Haitians illuminate how access to the refugee process is determined by race and class.33
This distinction also corresponds with the long history of white supremacist immigration policy that originates in late nineteenth-century Asian exclusion, evolving into national-origin quotas and restrictive border policies throughout the twentieth century. As they crossed the US–Mexico border, Central Americans were subject to being categorized as “Mexican” or “Hispanic.” These categories linked them to existing discourses about “wetbacks” and “illegal aliens,” making it seem more logical that their petitions for asylum should be denied, despite conditions in their nations of origin. A contemporary congressional policy study further linked undocumented migrants to crime, warning of the potential for the formation of a “fugitive underground class.”34
As conflict in Central America intensified, sending thousands into exile, the Organization of American States responded by revising the UNHCR’s definition of refugee status. Adopted in 1984, the Cartagena Declaration added to the 1951 and 1967 definitions “persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” This modification amplified the significance of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibited wartime violence to civilian “life or person,” to include the ongoing dirty wars.35
This expanded human rights definition had limited traction in the United States. Ambassador H. Eugene Douglas, US Coordinator for Refugee Affairs, pushed back against of the Cartagena Declaration, emphasizing the importance of the distinction between migrants and refugees: “By confusing the distinction between migrants and refugees, the concept of political asylum that Congress placed in the Refugee Act of 1980 will be progressively eroded. . . . If everyone is a refugee, then no one is a refugee.”36
By 1980, the INS was deporting between five hundred and one thousand Salvadorans and Guatemalans per month. In March of that year, Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero, a liberation theologian and widely beloved advocate for the poor, was assassinated while saying Mass. His death brought the issue of human rights in El Salvador to the attention of churches around the world. In the United States, Romero’s exhortations to “accompany” El Salvador’s poor, cited above, inspired faith-based activist solidarity with Central American migrants.37
Responding to this crisis, activist churches in the United States and Central America inaugurated a sanctuary movement to help migrants leave their homes and locate safe harbor after crossing into the United States. Religious delegations to Central America during the late 1970s returned with descriptions of the violence taking place there. Lay participants in Witness for Peace in Nicaragua and El Salvador reported on the increasing activism of churches there at the same time that the writings of liberation theologians percolated north. The roots of the sanctuary movement, then, were both ecclesiastic and international.38
In the United States, sanctuary workers crossed the border to help undocumented Central Americans enter. Others traveled to observe conditions in refugee camps in Honduras and El Salvador. The movement drew on the Old Testament notion that religious institutions should shelter “the stranger,” cited above. Sanctuary congregations became places of refuge, sheltering those who fled the dirty wars but were not recognized by the US government as refugees. Sanctuary workers invoked Archbishop Romero’s invocation that “accompanying” the struggles of the poor constituted holy work, asserting the moral necessity of international solidarity across borders of nation, race, and class.39
Initially, sanctuary movement advocates focused on obtaining legal asylum for the thousands of Central American refugees denied it. As migrants made US sanctuary workers increasingly aware of the violence taking place in Central America, the internationalist strand of the movement emphasized the root causes of migration in US imperial foreign policy. As the sanctuary movement spread to religious congregations as well as social movement spaces throughout the nation, an “underground railroad” involving over 160 places of worship and community organizations, as well as sympathetic journalists, moved several thousand asylum seekers around the nation and offered haven as well as a podium to broadcast their situations.40
An anonymous article in the professional journal Social Work described the “early days” of the sanctuary movement, when advocates focused on raising monies to release migrants from prison. Gradually, sanctuary workers and migrants realized that even when they were successful in freeing prisoners, Central American migrants were still considered undocumented, with few rights or economic prospects. This realization led to bolder actions, like a “freedom train” in which undocumented Central Americans traveled from city to city, publicizing their situations.41
As the anonymous attribution suggests, advocates recognized the threat they faced by aiding undocumented migrants. Section 274 of the McCarran-Walter Act criminalized transporting “illegal aliens” across the border or within the country, as well as “concealing, harboring, sheltering,” or even “encouraging” undocumented individuals. Sanctuary workers faced penalties: fines of $2,000 and up to five years of incarceration for each individual assisted. The Social Work article articulates the early sanctuary movement’s emphasis on distinguishing between what the author calls “political” and “economic refugees,” emphasizing that the majority of undocumented migrants arrive for economic reasons. Highlighting the difference between the needs of refugees and those of migrants, it explains that sanctuary workers “believe that sending political refugees back to persecution in their homeland violates the law in that political refugees are protected by the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, the UN Protocol on Refugees, and the Geneva Convention.”42
The distinction between “political refugees” and “economic migrants” was central as long as sanctuary workers labored only to help Central Americans with the legal processes leading to asylum. But as the movement developed, migrant testimonies emphasized the origins of the crisis in US foreign policy, rather than in the allegiances or motivations of those fleeing the dirty wars. Increasingly, awareness of the violence of imperial policies in Central America overwhelmed movement confidence in policies distinguishing between refugees and migrants. As the Center for Constitutional Rights explained in 1985: “‘declaring sanctuary’ is a moral, political, and legal decision—an act to communicate to legislative bodies their dissatisfaction with current United States Central American policies.”43
Through the sanctuary movement, progressive congregations and some secular organizations criticized Reagan Doctrine foreign policy as well as administrative machinations around refugee policy. With some notable exceptions, US media coverage of the dirty wars portrayed Central American popular movements as threatening guerilla insurgencies. The popular 1984 film Red Dawn broadcast the possibility of invasion from the south, depicting a menacing coalition of Sandinistas and Soviet apparatchiks. As the accounts of Central Americans fleeing the dirty wars exposed the falsity of this official line and motivated sanctuary workers to subvert federal law, the movement was targeted for federal surveillance.44
The 1985–86 trial of eleven sanctuary workers, half of them clergy, highlighted the protracted political conflict over refugees from the dirty wars. The evidence against the defendants had been gathered by the FBI, which utilized paid informants to infiltrate churches and movement meetings. The prosecution depicted their crimes as “alien smuggling” and attempted to have the word “refugee” banned from the trial, referring to Central Americans involved in the sanctuary movement as “alien co-conspirators.” When eight of the eleven were convicted, and their appeal subsequently denied by the Supreme Court, the trial provided a context for sanctuary workers to explain their conviction that US foreign policy interfered with the rights to asylum laid out by the Refugee Act of 1980. Susan Bibler Coutin explains, “Paradoxically, prosecution and surveillance both criminalized and exonerated sanctuary workers.”45
In its critique of US foreign policy, the sanctuary movement drew on an anti-imperialist, internationalist tradition that persisted in the United States, despite repression throughout the Cold War. This residual anti-imperialism was reignited by liberation theology penned by Central American intellectuals like Ignacio Ellacuría and Jon Sobrino, traveling both in ecclesiastical circles and on the journeys of thousands of Central Americans fleeing their homelands. The emergent form of the 1980s sanctuary movement found articulation in the three thousand faith groups and dozens of cities that declared themselves sanctuaries. Six hundred African American organizers in Operation PUSH declared sanctuary in Chicago, as Jesse Jackson compared the movement to the antebellum Underground Railroad to liberate enslaved Black people. The Akwesasne Nation declared its land spanning the boundary of New York State and Canada as a sanctuary and provided legal counsel to Guatemalan Mayan Indians as they sheltered on traditional Seminole lands in Florida.46
Central Americans’ testimonies about human rights abuses in their homelands also infused anti-imperialist movements like the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and Witness for Peace. Through these organizations, North Americans traveled to Central America, returning to affirm stories told by refugees from the region and to pressure the media to cover the dirty wars more extensively and equitably. Historian Bradford Martin credits the international connections forged in these movements with precipitating public disclosure of the “Iran-Contra affair” in 1987.47
Confronting the limits of US policy toward refugees and migrants, the sanctuary movement of the 1980s reimagined universal rights outside of the Cold War framework reinvigorated by the Reagan Doctrine. The movement violated laws it considered unjust to provide asylum for Central Americans outside the tight limits set by national policy and created a transnational network which facilitated the flow of information about the dirty wars beyond the exceedingly truncated coverage prevalent in US mass media. Importantly, the sanctuary movement brought the term “sanctuary” into public consciousness as an emergent answer to the practical shortcomings of human rights law. While the movement dwindled by the early 1990s, the idea of sanctuary persisted as an imaginative principle.
When I look out at you, each and every one here, this is a sea of love. This is like the Katrina that is going to overtake any wall that is going to be built because this sea of love is going to make that change.—Ravi Ragbir, director, New Sanctuary Coalition, in “Let My People Stay”
Every Thursday morning a group of people walk seven times in silence around 26 Federal Plaza in New York City, which holds the immigration courthouse. The New York New Sanctuary Coalition has been holding these Jericho Walks since 2011, as part of their ongoing attempt to “carve out some hope where there is hopelessness,” in the words of the Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz, cofounder and organizer of the New Sanctuary Coalition. Modeled on the Old Testament story of Joshua, who, as the song goes, “fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down,” the Jericho Walk poses the power of the assembled immigrant rights advocates against the edifices of power and deportation.49
Founded in 2007, the contemporary New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) responds to the enhanced immigration enforcement that is a vital component of post-9/11 securitization. In using Old Testament tropes to illuminate moral might against state power, the New Sanctuary Movement draws on an arsenal familiar from the strategies of the 1980s sanctuary movement. But advocates stand on ground radically transformed by the past twenty years.
Federal Plaza is blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center felled on September 11, 2001. The work of the New Sanctuary Movement takes place in context of the homeland securitization of immigration enforcement. As a result, contemporary sanctuary is an emergent and fast-changing cultural form. The New Sanctuary Coalition of New York modifies the accompaniment practices of the sanctuary movement of the 1980s to fill immigration courts with crowds of “documented” US citizens on behalf of “friends” undergoing check-in visits. This version of accompaniment brings visibility to the ever-present threat of deportation, sometimes changing the outcomes of immigration court visits.50
No new federal immigration policy has passed Congress since the Illegal Immigration Reform and Individual Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 provided grounds for the enhanced criminalization and policing of migrant communities, for example, by instituting 287(g) programs that authorize local police collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. But “homeland security” laws like the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Real ID Act of 2005 have had devastating effects on foreign-born communities, depriving noncitizens of access to legal identification and providing expansive grounds for the detention and deportation of undocumented residents, particularly those suspected of links to terrorism. A host of subfederal laws at the state level, along with the rise of xenophobia in public discourse, erodes the rights of the foreign born. Such subfederal laws are most notoriously represented by the controversial Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona authorizing law-enforcement personnel to ask for identification papers from people they suspect of being undocumented.51
After 9/11, an emergent grammar of homeland security drew on residual nativism and Islamophobia to conflate Muslim and Arab Americans with both terrorism and out-of-control migration. This discourse deployed the Cold War semantic division between deserving refugees and threatening migrants during almost two decades of refugee-generating conflicts waged by US forces, allies, munitions, and drones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, Yemen, and more. At this moment of increased US international engagement, a nationalist language of borders and securitization that perceived refugees as potential terrorists gained traction. As refugees became associated in this discourse with “terror,” it eroded the post-1951 distinction between “deserving” refugees and suspect migrants.52
This rhetoric of counterterrorism advanced further in the Trump administration’s rapid implementation of Executive Order 13769, a controversial ban on travelers, refugees, and migrants from seven mostly Muslim nations. Like past restrictive immigration laws, this policy draws on xenophobia, white supremacy, and Islamophobia. But in a departure from Cold War immigration policy, the order also conflates migrants with refugees as equally threatening and undesirable, upending prior distinctions between these two terms. Mandating a temporary ban on refugee admissions, the order asserted the criminal proclivities of immigrants as well as those “who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program.”53
Public discourse in both nativist and immigrant rights circles increasingly uses the words “migrants” and “refugees” interchangeably: Pueblo Sin Fronteras says “refugees and migrants,” and the Trump administration responds by treating asylum seekers as undocumented entrants. Anyone wanting to cross the border confronts the xenophobic rage of public policy, as evidenced by the troops deployed to “defend” the US–Mexico border against the migrant caravan. As the distinctions between refugees and migrants erodes, it creates a space to assert the right to freedom of movement for all.54
Responding to the amplified xenophobia present since the 2016 election, the New Sanctuary Movement includes broad advocacy and organizing around immigrant rights and community empowerment. Contemporary immigrant rights formations are influenced by the emergent activism of “DREAMers,” or “undocumented youth activists,” to use visual culture scholar Rebecca Schreiber’s term. “Undocumented and unafraid” activists worked against federal as well as state and local anti-immigration policies. Courageous and innovative, they organized civil disobediences and infiltrated detention centers to monitor conditions there.55
With the collapse of long-standing definitions of refugees and migrants in this era of zero tolerance, sanctuary rearticulates the grounds for collective refuge. Like the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, the New Sanctuary Movement provides shelter while raising awareness of the issues faced by foreign-born communities. It publicizes cases like that of Salvadoran-American Araceli Vasquez, who went into sanctuary in Denver during the summer of 2017. The publicity drawn by those who go into sanctuary allows the immigrant rights movement to gain the much-needed visibility that has been obscured, in large part by the homeland security state’s deployment of images of criminality and deviance to define migration.56
Just as 1980s advocates deployed the word “sanctuary” to respond to a gap in rights at the junction of national and international laws, the contemporary New Sanctuary Movement has begun to invent new forms: sanctuary cities, communities, and campuses. These innovations have occasioned opposition in the form of state and federal “anti-sanctuary” bills, which threaten to cut off public funds to sanctuary communities.57
Contemporary sanctuary practices are emergent forms, requiring imagination as well as organizing. For example, a “Sanctuary Campus Toolkit” produced collaboratively by the immigrant rights organization Cosecha and the Harvard University Law Clinic provides extensive legal resources for campus organizations seeking to protect foreign-born students, faculty, and staff. This text cites historical antecedents, such as Oberlin College’s defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law and its welcome of Japanese American students during the 1940s internment, universities and colleges that harbored students seeking to evade the Vietnam-era draft, and institutions which refused to allow ROTC on campus because of its discriminatory policies against gay, lesbian, and transgender students. The authors explain: “As universities now decide to move forward, they should know that they carry forward an important tradition of colleges and universities as sites of courageous resistance and protection.”58
As a social movement, sanctuary is born in and responds to emergency. The zero tolerance policy adopted in the spring of 2017 made family separation in detention facilities a consequence of undocumented crossing.59 In the spring of 2018, the issue gained traction as photographs and videos emerged that depicted children crying behind chain-link fences. Widespread protests took place in cities and towns across the country, proclaiming “families belong together.” As Lisa Cacho points out, this framing can narrow much broader claims by immigrant rights advocates. However, during the summer of 2018, the broad, abolitionist phrase, #abolishICE, caught fire.60
As an aspiration, #abolishICE echoes the internationalist claims of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, conjuring an alternate history of global rights suppressed by the Cold War and subsequent political formations. The use of the word “abolition” echoes the work of Black and white antebellum activists who sheltered, advocated for, and accompanied African Americans to court, working against their deportations from free to slave states. The critique of the securitized Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency suggests the possibility of a world in which national sovereignty is not an impediment to creating refuge for the most precarious in all nations. As a slogan, #abolishICE parallels the Palestinian Stop the Wall Campaign as it recognizes the depredations of walls and borders.
Like the #abolishICE hashtag, international organizations like Pueblo Sin Fronteras and the Palestinian Stop the Wall Campaign link the global struggles of migrants, refugees, citizens, and denizens against militarized immigration and policing. These groups represent an international movement, #worldwithoutwalls, which recognizes the depredations of internal walls, like those built around Brazilian favelas and those maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, as similar in kind to the international borders that cut across indigenous lands and deter people fleeing Central America from seeking shelter in the United States. Enhanced securitization of these walls and fences maintains repressive orders and secures the borders of neighborhoods as well as imperial nation-states.61
Importantly, these organizations acknowledge the depredations of walls within as well as between sovereign nations. They recognize that to work against such walls is to work against a global system of empire, which includes the brutal legacies that have created the contemporary map of nations as well as ongoing imperial practices. Imagining a world without walls is an alternative internationalist project, connecting struggles for indigenous sovereignty and migrant justice to those against state violence.
As Judith Butler has recently written, sanctuary is a term we might deploy to describe broad struggles for freedom, against securitization: “Sanctuary is a vanishing ideal within the new security state, one worth reanimating not only for scholars at risk but also for the undocumented and those who engage in political dissent—in other words, for all those who have reason to fear the state by virtue of their precarious position.”62
At the time of this writing, the contemporary sanctuary movement mobilizes to greet the most recent caravans from Central America at the border in January 2019. Inaugurating a “Sanctuary Caravan” that intends to meet the Fall 2018 migrant caravan at the US–Mexico border, the New Sanctuary Coalition asserts the existence of “fundamental human rights” that transcend national citizenship. The coalition writes: “We reaffirm our conviction that every member of the Central American Caravan has an inalienable human right to flee from violence and poverty and toward better economic and political conditions elsewhere, regardless of national boundaries. We submit that they possess a right to enter and remain in the U.S. equal to anyone born there.”63
This convergence is one of many. As juridical categories of “refugee” and “migrant” succumb to the deluge of US as well as worldwide xenophobia, sanctuary presents an alternative. Practices of sanctuary proliferate everywhere, within and beyond the scope of a juridical regime compromised by the limits of international law. Contemporary sanctuary formations draw on past practices as well as innovating new ones, creating a rising tide: the “sea of love” that Ragbir imagines in the quote cited above. Like the sea, they are everywhere.
Sanctuary everywhere: The weekly Jericho Walks in New York City take place on hallowed land: the African cemetery partially paved over by construction of the federal buildings in lower Manhattan. Sometimes the walks have concluded with participants taking a knee, in homage to the gesture of athletes in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives.64
Sanctuary everywhere: In Milwaukee, since 2017, local mobilizations against 287(g) bills have drawn a new coalition of Muslim-Arab and Black Lives Matter organizers into immigrant rights work. A May 2018 demonstration against Israeli Defense Forces killings of protesters in Gaza brought leaders from the predominantly Latinx immigrant rights organization, Voces de la Frontera, together with Palestine solidarity activists.
Sanctuary everywhere: The word exceeds its category. It stands in for what became unsayable during the Cold War; what was articulated by survivors of the genocidal dirty wars. It becomes a banner for what is still possible, even in the bleakest of times.
My thanks to Joe Austin, Benjamin Balthaser, Nan Enstad, Wendy Kozol, and S. Ani Mukherji for their comments on prior drafts. The Center for 21st Century Studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee provided crucial space and time for the writing of this piece. Timely interventions by two anonymous reviewers as well as the editors of this issue helped me figure out what I was trying to say in the first place.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras, “Refugee Caravan 2018.”
Palestinian Stop the Wall Campaign, “Letter.”
Palestinian Stop the Wall Campaign, “Letter.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Obtaining Asylum”; Whitfield, “The Immigrant Caravan Lays Bare the Conflict between Jesus and Power”; Semple and Jordan, “Migrant Caravan of Asylum Seekers Reaches U.S. Border”; Ahmed, Rodgers, and Ernst, “How the Migrant Caravan Became a Trump Election Strategy.”
These protests were organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the ACLU, the Women’s March, and MoveOn. Arnold, “Everything to Know about the Nationwide Immigration Separation Protest on June 30.” In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled in Flores v. Reno that unaccompanied minors detained at the border should either be released to adult guardians or relatives, or held in the “least restrictive environment” possible. A subsequent ruling by a federal judge in California dictated the release of children and parents traveling together. Because they cannot be released without an adult guardian, children separated from the adults with whom they travel often wind up in federal detention centers and prisons. See National Center for Youth Law, “Flores v. Reno”; Cillizza, “The Remarkable History of the Family Separation Crisis”; and Hernández, “Habitual Punishment.” For rhetorical connections between smuggling and family separation, see Hennessey-Fiske, “Migrants, Young and Old, Are Not Always Related”; Jordan, “Breaking Up Families”; “Absent a Border Wall, Trump Opts to Punish Migrant Parents by Seizing Their Kids”; National Public Radio, “Border Patrol Union Official Discusses Family Separation Policy”; Valverde, “What You Need to Know about the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy.”
Buff, “Refugee Planet: Sanctuary Everywhere.” “Sanctuary Everywhere” is also a current campaign of the American Friends’ Service Committee. See www.afsc.org/sanctuaryeverywhere (accessed May 30, 2018).
Naomi Paik writes of the capacity-building work of sanctuary practices: “Beyond its grounded intervention of non-cooperation and safe harbor, sanctuary already performs conceptual work that can undermine the criminalization of migrants and other vulnerable people.” Paik, “Abolitionist Futures and the New Sanctuary Movement,” 17.
For the UNHCR definition of refugees, see United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, especially pages 14–16.
Garfinkle traces the history of the phrase, more commonly attributed to Theodor Herzl as “a land without a people for a people without a land,” in “On the Origin, Meaning, Use and Abuse of a Phrase,” 540, 543. See also Said, The Question of Palestine, especially pages 3–55. On UNRWA, see United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, “Who We Are.”
See Ngai, Impossible Subjects.
On Operation Wetback, see Hernandez, Migra!, 169–218; Buff, Against the Deportation Terror, 108–37. On the McCarran-Walter (Immigration and Nationality) Act, see García, The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America, 162; Buff, Immigration and the Political Economy of Home, 45–76.
Quoted in Greenstein, Zionism and Its Discontents, 155.
The Lamp, no. 36, June 1947; see also Buff, Against the Deportation Terror, 78–80.
Romero, “on Accompaniment.”
Public Law 92-212; “States Parties to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol”; Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary, 67; Coutin, The Culture of Protest, 93; García, The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America, 5–6.
Carl Lindskoog argues that Reagan Administration impetus to stop Haitian refugee migration, through interdiction as well as deportation, coincided with implementation of the Refugee Act, undermining it in practice. See Lindskoog, Detain and Punish, especially pages 51–71.
According to María Christina García, “both geopolitical and domestic considerations have played a role in determining the numerical quota [of refugees] and how it will be allocated” (The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America, 6). Statistics: Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary, 44 and 77.
“Marielitos” refers to the 135,000 Cubans who left the Cuban port of Mariel in 1980. Many had served time in Cuban prisons. Racialized by the US media, they did not receive the warm reception enjoyed by early cohorts of Cuban migrants. See Robles, “Marielitos Face Long Delayed Reckoning: Expulsion to Cuba”; Lindskoog, Detain and Punish.
Cartagena Document, www.oas.org/dil/1984_cartagena_declaration_on_refugees.pdf (accessed June 7, 2018); the Cartagena document is discussed in García, The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America, 46. On the Geneva Convention see “Havens of Refuge,” 8.
Quoted in Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary, 41.
Bonner, “Time for a U.S. Apology to El Salvador.”
Coutin, The Culture of Protest, 23–50. On accompaniment, see also Tomlinson and Lipsitz, “American Studies as Accompaniment,” 8–10.
Statistic on 1980 deportations from Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary, 1.
Journalists Alma Guillermoprieto and Raymond Bonner, for example, consistently covered the depredations of the US-backed regime in El Salvador. See Bonner’s more recent “Time for a U.S. Apology to El Salvador.” On criminalization of sanctuary, see Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary, 1–2.
On trial were Jim Corbett; Rev. John Fife; Wayne King; Sister Darlene Nicgorski; Phillip Willis-Conger, a seminary student; Rev. Ramon Dagoberto Quinones, a Catholic priest; Maria del Socorro Pardo Viuda de Aguilar; Wendy LeWin; Rev. Anthony Clark, 37, of Nogales, Ariz.; and Peggy Hutchison, 31, a Tucson missionary. Espinoza, MacDonald, and Witt, “Sanctuary Activists Lose Conspiracy Trial”; King, “Trial Opening in Arizona”; Coutin, “Smugglers or Samaritans in Tucson, Arizona,” 549; Golden and McConnell, Sanctuary, 75–76.
Juan Carlos Ruiz, interview with author, February 20, 2018.
This strategy has had some success in the deportation case of Ravi Ragbir, as well as in lesser-known cases. On Ragbir’s case, see Hawkins, “Federal Judge Blasts ICE for ‘Cruel’ Tactics, Frees Immigrant Rights Activist Ravi Ragbir.”
Arizona Immigration Law (SB 1070). Gulasekaram and Ramakrishnan, “Immigration Federalism.” Under the rubric of “effective counter-terrorism,” the regime of enhanced immigration enforcement undermines foreign-born communities. The 2002 implementation of the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS) required nonimmigrant Muslim and Arab men and boys to register with the DHS. Of the 84,000 who complied, 13,000 faced removal proceedings, mostly on grounds of minor immigration infractions such as visa overstay. None were charged with actual terrorist activities.
“The National Security Entrance-Exit Registry”; Gladstone and Sugiyama, “Trump’s Travel Ban.” Legal scholar Noura Erakat argues that the August 2018 move of the Trump administration to defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency moves to redefine the nature and number of Palestinian refugees. Settler-colonial projects physically displace people and then rhetorically erase even the incidence of displacement, at the cost of even the limited humanitarianism permitted by the emergence of liberal human rights after 1945. Erakat explains: “The United States and Israel want to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue not by allowing refugees to return but by changing the legal definition so that they cease to exist” (Erakat, “Trump Has No Right to Define Who Is a Palestinian Refugee”).
See, for example, Giatarelli, “Border Police, Troops Brace for Caravan Surge in Arizona.”
In 2015 organizing by the workers’ center/immigrant rights organization Voces de la Frontera defeated an “anti-sanctuary cities” bill in the state. See Stein and Marley, “State Senate Unlikely to Take Up Sanctuary Cities Bill.”
Harvard Law Clinic and Cosecha, “Sanctuary Campus.”
Madrigal, “The Making of an On-Line Moral Crisis.”
Cacho, Social Death.
Stop the Wall, “Call for Global Day of Action.”
Butler, “The Criminalization of Knowledge.”
New Sanctuary Coalition, “Sanctuary Caravan.”
Juan Carlos Ruiz, interview with author, February 20, 2018.