The New Sanctuary Movement

The Faith in Public Life Agenda

By Stephanie Block

OK, so if protecting vulnerable human babies from butchering and upholding traditional moral restrictions on marriage is too “conservative” – too “exclusive” – for the religious voices of the Faith in Public Life coalition, what are the glorious social justice campaigns that float their collective coalition boat? You’re not ready for the answer just yet – unless you are already familiar with the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, in which case, you’re excused from reading this preliminary section and may skip ahead to “The New Sanctuary Movement.”

For those of you, however, who missed the old Sanctuary Movement, it fancied itself a sort of “underground railroad,” created to help smuggle Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Guatemalans into the United States in defiance of federal immigration laws. Often, these political refugees had engaged in Marxist activism in their home countries and were fleeing “right-wing” retaliation. Those fleeing Sandinista atrocities, on the other hand, were not considered suitable for Sanctuary aid. In the words of one spokesman, helping those who did not oppose US foreign policy would have been “unbiblical, a-historical pietism aimed at ministering to timeless refugees who are without concrete historical, political, moral claims on our lives.” [Mary Ann Corley]

About 500 congregations from various denominations, including some Roman Catholic parishes, protected the refugees from prosecution by offering them “sanctuary” inside church buildings.

Another 1,000 congregations supported the principles of the Sanctuary Movement, providing practical assistance to the refugees and advancing their political cause, namely to end US assistance to the Marxist-contras in Central America, whether the contras were government or popular forces.

The Sanctuary Movement folded after the Soviet Union collapsed and Nicaraguan elections of 1990 ended its Sandinista dictatorship. The movement’s leadership, however, has continued its efforts to influence American politics and foreign policy.

Jim Wallis and Sojourners

Take Jim Wallis and his Sojourners Magazine…please.

In 1984, they co-created the Witness for Peace Tours to generate pro-Sandinista (Marxist) support in the United States. Delegates were taken to Nicaragua and treated to staged “pep rallies,” supposedly demonstrating popular enthusiasm for the Sandinistas.

Meanwhile, back home, the magazine wrote glowing articles about liberation theology’s inroads into the spiritual life of Latin Americans, portrayed the US military and US Latin American foreign policy as “anti-Christ,” and claimed that US economic assistance went exclusively to countries that repress and torture their citizens. By contrast, one researcher observed that, as of 1983, Sojourners had not criticized one Marxist country for human rights violations.

Twenty years later, Jim Wallis and Sojourners are among the primary initiators and coordinators of Faith in Public Life – dedicated to assuring the secular world that pro-life and traditional moral values are not associated with mainstream religion.

The New Sanctuary Movement

Instead, Faith in Public Life’s May 2007 Impact Report announced that it was helping “two great new groups, Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and The New Sanctuary Movement, with media outreach.”

The New Sanctuary Movement’s goals are similar to the old. It seeks to “publicly provide hospitality and protection to a limited number of immigrant families whose cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system while working to support legislation that would change their situation.” By “moral injustice” means, in this case, threatened deportation of families whose children were born in the United States and are therefore American citizens. [Interfaith Worker Justice, Faith Works, May 2007]

Publicity from the New Sanctuary Movement’s website describes it like this:

On January 29, 2007 representatives from 18 cities, 12 religious traditions and 7 denominational and interdenominational organizations joined together to listen to the experience of immigrant families fighting deportation, and to strategize how to protect parents and children from being torn apart until there is just comprehensive immigration reform. []

There’s disingenuousness about describing this as “injustice,” as nothing in deportation law separates parents from their children although the situation may well be painful and difficult.

Nor is the rhetoric of “keeping families together” – and thereby putting a poignant face to the deportation threat – really the US immigration policy the New Sanctuary Movement seeks to change.

The Full Agenda

So, what is the full agenda? To understand that requires knowing about the New Sanctuary Movement’s “coordinating members.” Supposedly, there are three of them but in reality, the New Sanctuary Movement is a project of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a national network of groups heavily associated with Faith in Public Life. IWJ’s founder and executive director, Kim Bobo, is a Faith in Public Life spokesman. Faith in Public Life’s Special Assistant to the Executive Director was IWJ intern. At least two dozen IWJ chapters are Faith in Public Life members. It’s a close-knit network.

Interfaith Worker Justice not only wants to prevent “families from being torn apart,” but:

  • seeks an immediate moratorium on community and work site raids by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • seeks decriminalizing the violation of immigration laws.
  • seeks affording undocumented workers the same rights and privileges as legal immigrants.
  • seeks to spread the idea that the immigration problem is caused by unjust US foreign policies.

Another New Sanctuary Movement “coordinating member” is Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-California. However, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-California is just an IWJ chapter and a Faith in Public Life member...and, of course, it supports the same goals of its parent organizations.

The last “coordinating member” of the New Sanctuary Movement is the New York Sanctuary Coalition/ Asociación Tepayac. This organization “organizes immigrant families to address community issues and advocate for their rights” and its founding director, Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, sits on the advisory board of the liberationist Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) in San Antonio, Texas.

To the above agenda of “rights,” Asociación Tepayac

  • - seeks to give non-citizen, undocumented workers voting privileges,
  • - opposes any enforcement of federal, civil immigration laws by state and local police,
  • - opposes any registration or deportation of undocumented workers, and
  • - seeks free access to higher education for undocumented workers.

So, together with abortion and homosexual “rights,” put world citizen “rights” on the list of Faith in Public Life “social justice” issues paid for by your Catholic Campaign for Human Development dollars.

Sort of takes one’s breath away, doesn’t it?

Published in The Pepper, September 2007

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