CHEERS to the New Sanctuary Movement

January 12, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


Religious and immigrant rights groups around the country have condemned the armed raids against refugees here from Central America carried out by Homeland Security at the start of this year, calling them illegal, deeply immoral, obscene, and inhumane. They are organizing opposition through online petitions, statements, press conferences, and more. Warnings about possible raids are appearing in Spanish on Twitter. A campaign to educate immigrants is taking place on social media, using hashtags like #Not1More, and #WatchICE. Tips and phone numbers to call if ICE agents show up are being provided, and people are urged not to sign voluntary deportation papers and to ask for their lawyers.

A very significant development within this growing resistance is the new Sanctuary Movement among religious congregations and immigrant rights groups, vowing to offer refuge to illegal immigrants being targeted by federal raids. The original Sanctuary Movement arose in the 1980s, when churches in the Southwest especially provided sanctuary for immigrants from Central America to obstruct and prevent the government’s efforts to deport them. At that time too, thousands and thousands of Salvadorans and Guatemalans were desperately trying to escape from the repression and the genocidal military campaigns being waged by the U.S. directly and through its flunky governments to crush rebellions influenced by its imperialist rival, the Soviet Union.

Churches in Arizona and other states are once again considering or have already announced plans to offer sanctuary to Central Americans, including the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, which launched the original Sanctuary Movement. The pastor, Alison Harrington, said hundreds of churches across the country are poised to participate in an “underground railroad” similar to those that aided Central American refugees in the 1980s. “We feel we are once again living through a nightmare. Once again, human lives are at stake.”

Rev. Ken Heintzelman, head pastor of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix said his congregation “believes it has a moral obligation to protect Central Americans fleeing violence.” And he added that the U.S. helped create the conditions driving families to flee Central America. “We have made life intolerable for people who want to live peaceful family lives and we don’t take any responsibility for that.”


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