Sanctuary and its people : reform and resistance in the fight for asylum




Villarreal, Alexandra

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This report explores the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, a loose transnational network of churches and volunteers who used civil disobedience as a strategy to spotlight the United States’ harmful policies in Central America, provide a non-statist form of protection for forcibly displaced Salvadorans and Guatemalans, and challenge the unequal provision of the U.S.’s recently enacted asylum laws. Some of my research questions are deceptively simple: Why did the Sanctuary Movement (or movements) exist? And who were its leaders? Others are more utilitarian: What does the Sanctuary Movement imply about the history of asylum in the U.S., and particularly the efficacy and equity of the protections set forth in the 1980 Refugee Act? At the interstices of these varied but related inquiries, I find answers that suggest the 1980s Sanctuary Movement existed in the U.S. because equitable asylum laws did not, and because brave people — North Americans and Central Americans alike, of diverse genders, races, and ethnicities — refused to accept that reality. I conclude by underscoring sanctuary’s continued resonances today, drawing lessons from a transnational movement of flawed yet exceptional people united by and for good.


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