What Immigrant Rights Activists Can Learn From the Original Sanctuary Movement

Organizers against U.S. intervention in Central America offered not just sanctuary, but solidarity.

Hilary Goodfriend

Chicago activists protest U.S. involvement in the Salvadoran Civil War in March 1989. (Linda Hess Miller / Wikimedia Commons)

This sto­ry first appeared at Jacobin.

Solidarity groups were not just fighting against U.S. imperial violence, but for a radical political project.

The word sanc­tu­ary” has tak­en cen­ter stage in recent weeks for the first time in sev­er­al decades. Across the coun­try, church­es, restau­rants, cam­pus­es, and cities are declar­ing them­selves sanc­tu­ary sites in the face of esca­lat­ing threats from the Trump admin­is­tra­tion against undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and oth­ers vul­ner­a­ble to deportation.

These actions harken back to the 1980s, when a reli­gious-based Sanc­tu­ary Move­ment sought to shel­ter refugees flee­ing the vio­lence of U.S.-backed wars against left­ist insur­gen­cies and gov­ern­ments in Cen­tral America.

In response to the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion in 1959 and the sub­se­quent vic­to­ry of the San­din­ista Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front (FSLN) against the U.S.-backed Somoza dic­ta­tor­ship in Nicaragua in 1979, the Unit­ed States scaled up its sup­port for anti-com­mu­nist regimes in the region. Under the Carter and Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tions, the Unit­ed States sent mil­i­tary advi­sors and hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in weapons and mil­i­tary aid to the right-wing dic­ta­tor­ships in Guatemala and El Salvador.

There, U.S.-trained armies respond­ed to left­ist insur­gen­cies with unspeak­able cam­paigns of sus­tained vio­lence against the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion in the form of mas­sacres, death squads, tor­ture, rape, and disappearance.

In Guatemala, the decades-long civ­il war would even­tu­al­ly claim 200,000 lives, with state forces respon­si­ble for 93 per­cent of the vio­lence, accord­ing to a UN report; in El Sal­vador, 75,000 were killed, with state forces respon­si­ble of at least 85 per­cent of the crimes. The Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion also covert­ly and ille­gal­ly armed and sup­port­ed para­mil­i­tary con­tra” forces against the San­din­ista gov­ern­ment, financ­ing this illic­it ven­ture through clan­des­tine arms deals with Iran.

As these anti-com­mu­nist proxy wars rav­aged Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, a mas­sive grass­roots response arose in the Unit­ed States.

This move­ment, some­times referred to as the Cen­tral Amer­i­ca sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment or the Cen­tral Amer­i­ca peace move­ment, encom­passed a vast and diverse amal­ga­ma­tion of orga­ni­za­tions and tac­tics fight­ing to halt U.S. sup­port for the wars, defend the rev­o­lu­tion­ary projects of Cen­tral Amer­i­can pop­u­lar move­ments, and pro­tect Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees seek­ing a safe haven in the Unit­ed States.

As part of the move­ment, activists trav­eled to San­din­ista Nicaragua under siege from the con­tras, indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties fac­ing geno­ci­dal vio­lence in Guatemala, lib­er­at­ed gueril­la ter­ri­to­ry in El Sal­vador, and Sal­vado­ran refugee camps in Hon­duras to wit­ness first-hand the col­lec­tive orga­niz­ing for social and eco­nom­ic jus­tice so fierce­ly opposed by the Free World” and to gath­er tes­ti­monies on the depre­da­tions of U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy. In the Unit­ed States, they engaged in col­lec­tive acts of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, put their lives on the line in coura­geous direct actions, waged nation­al polit­i­cal cam­paigns, pro­vid­ed aid and ser­vices for vic­tims of the vio­lence, and orga­nized mass mobilizations.

As an array of forces again raise the man­tel of sanc­tu­ary,” it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the sanc­tu­ary move­ment of the 1980s was but one com­po­nent of a broad-based, cross-bor­der, anti-impe­ri­al­ist lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. This is the rad­i­cal her­itage that our orga­nized respons­es to mass depor­ta­tions, refugee bans, and impe­ri­al­ist wars must claim today.


Angela San­bra­no was a law stu­dent in Los Ange­les in the late 1970s, when Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees began flood­ing the city. She worked tak­ing inter­views for asy­lum appli­ca­tions and became increas­ing­ly involved in the emerg­ing move­ment, even­tu­al­ly ris­ing in the ranks of the Com­mit­tee in Sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Peo­ple of El Sal­vador (CIS­PES) to serve as the organization’s first Exec­u­tive Direc­tor. San­bra­no went on to direct the Cen­tral Amer­i­can Resource Cen­ter (CARE­CEN) in Los Ange­les, where she now serves as Chair of the Board of Directors.

The sanc­tu­ary move­ment and the sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment were like sis­ters,” she says. One obvi­ous­ly was ground­ed in the inter-faith sec­tor, and the sol­i­dar­i­ty [move­ment] was pri­mar­i­ly stu­dents and the Left and pro­gres­sives that had been involved in the Viet­nam War and the civ­il rights move­ment and the peace movement.”

The sanc­tu­ary move­ment built on a rich U.S. tra­di­tion of reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties engag­ing in prin­ci­pled civ­il dis­obe­di­ence out of a belief in a high­er moral right­eous­ness, from the Under­ground Rail­road to the Civ­il Rights move­ment and oppo­si­tion to the Viet­nam War. The ground­work was laid in the 1960s, as U.S. church-peo­ple trav­eled to Latin Amer­i­ca as part of the Alliance for Progress, Kennedy’s reformist ini­tia­tive to fight the per­ceived rise of com­mu­nism in the region.

There, many were exposed to and rad­i­cal­ized by the grow­ing Lib­er­a­tion The­ol­o­gy move­ment, which brought togeth­er Marx­ist and Chris­t­ian doc­trines to advance a pref­er­en­tial option for the poor” in the face of dev­as­tat­ing inequal­i­ty and increas­ing­ly vio­lent repres­sion. These sym­pa­thies were strength­ened as atroc­i­ties against reli­gious lead­ers in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca began to draw inter­na­tion­al atten­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in El Sal­vador in 1980 with the assas­si­na­tion of Arch­bish­op Oscar Romero and the rape and mur­der of four North Amer­i­can church­women, and again in 1989 with mas­sacre of six Jesuit priests, their house­keep­er and her daugh­ter at the Cen­tral Amer­i­can University.

The sanc­tu­ary move­ment emerged as a des­per­ate response to the politi­cized inequities of U.S. immi­gra­tion law. Migrants flee­ing vio­lence and per­se­cu­tion were dying in the south­west­ern deserts, and con­gre­gants seek­ing to aid these refugees were hor­ri­fied to learn that the U.S. government’s response to the sur­vivors was depor­ta­tion, not pro­vi­sion of shelter.

This was because grant­i­ng asy­lum to refugees of the vio­lence from U.S.-backed anti­com­mu­nist regimes would imply a recog­ni­tion that those allies were indeed com­mit­ting human rights abus­es, thus endan­ger­ing their U.S. fund­ing and sup­port. As a result, asy­lum seek­ers escap­ing San­din­ista Nicaragua were received with open arms, while the mass­es flee­ing vio­lence from right-wing mil­i­tary regimes in Guatemala and El Sal­vador were all but sum­mar­i­ly denied.

As they became aware of the per­ils that refugees would risk in their home coun­tries, many of them dis­si­dents flee­ing for their lives, reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties began to open their doors.

The move­ment was for­mal­ly launched in 1982, when sev­er­al con­gre­ga­tions across the coun­try pub­li­cal­ly defied U.S. immi­gra­tion laws and declared them­selves sanc­tu­ar­ies for refugees from Guatemala & El Sal­vador fac­ing depor­ta­tion. Ini­tial lead­ers includ­ed James Cor­bett and the Tuc­son Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cil (TEC); sub­se­quent­ly, the Chica­go Reli­gious Task Force on Cen­tral Amer­i­ca (CRT­F­CA) would emerge to coor­di­nate the grow­ing move­ment. But unlike the more for­mal sol­i­dar­i­ty and anti-inter­ven­tion net­works, sanc­tu­ary remained a decen­tral­ized, local­ized initiative.

Ear­ly on, the move­ment was infil­trat­ed by agents from the Immi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vice (INS, a pre­de­ces­sor to today’s Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment). In 1985, four­teen reli­gious sanc­tu­ary activists were indict­ed on charges of con­spir­a­cy and alien smug­gling in Tus­con, Ari­zona; eight were con­vict­ed the next year. By then, near­ly 400 church­es and syn­a­gogues had emerged as sanc­tu­ary sites. Scores of cities and sev­er­al states would follow.

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing shel­ter and basic ser­vices, sanc­tu­ary activists were instru­men­tal in the legal bat­tles to shield refugees from depor­ta­tion. Fol­low­ing the indict­ments in Tuc­son, reli­gious groups and church­es joined Cen­tral Amer­i­can orga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing immi­gra­tion sup­port ser­vices to sue the gov­ern­ment for dis­crim­i­nat­ing against Sal­vado­ran and Guatemalan asy­lum seek­ers in the Amer­i­can Bap­tist Church­es v. Thron­burgh (ABC) class action law suit, which was final­ly set­tled in 1991 to allow new asy­lum hear­ings for cer­tain appli­cants who had been rejected.

Sanc­tu­ary activists also helped push for the 1990 Immi­gra­tion Act which cre­at­ed Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus (TPS) for cer­tain migrants, in par­tic­u­lar those from El Sal­vador, as well as the 1997 Nicaraguan Adjust­ment and Cen­tral Amer­i­can Relief Act (NACARA), which allowed Sal­vado­rans and Guatemalans includ­ed in the ABC suit to apply for a sus­pen­sion of depor­ta­tion and grant­ed legal per­ma­nent res­i­den­cy to Nicaraguans (still, we should note, a vast­ly unequal resolution).

Sanc­tu­ary church­es would often devel­op sis­ter rela­tion­ships with coun­ter­parts in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, orga­niz­ing del­e­ga­tions to trav­el to Nicaragua, El Sal­vador, or Guatemala to wit­ness the vio­lence of U.S.-backed forces and accom­pa­ny” the social jus­tice work led by the Lib­er­a­tion The­ol­o­gy-inspired con­gre­ga­tions. These expe­ri­ences, togeth­er with refugee tes­ti­monies, strength­ened the transna­tion­al bonds between com­mu­ni­ties and con­sol­i­dat­ed opin­ions against the wars.

Refugee Lead­er­ship

Sanc­tu­ary was a faith-based, human­i­tar­i­an ini­tia­tive, but its polit­i­cal con­tent was inescapable. In the face of refugee tes­ti­mo­ny of the hor­rors of the U.S.-backed vio­lence in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties broke U.S. law in the name of a high­er moral authority.

At the same time, the tes­ti­monies served to counter the U.S. government’s nar­ra­tive of demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tions fend­ing off Sovi­et-spon­sored ter­ror­ists. As part of the broad­er sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment, refugee tes­ti­monies pro­vid­ed com­pelling evi­dence against the government’s claims, thus bol­ster­ing anti-inter­ven­tion efforts.

I became aware of what was hap­pen­ing in El Sal­vador through the refugees,” says Angela San­bra­no. Many of them had been cap­tured and tor­tured, or their friends or rel­a­tives had been tor­tured or disappeared.”

Sanc­tu­ary church­es were often involved in coali­tions with sol­i­dar­i­ty orga­ni­za­tions. Leslie Schuld joined CIS­PES as a uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent in Ohio and went on to serve as the organization’s Nation­al Pro­gram Direc­tor; Schuld now directs the Cen­tro de Inter­cam­bio y Sol­i­dari­dad(CIS) lan­guage school in San Sal­vador, where she has lived since 1993. She remem­bers work­ing with a local coali­tion on sanc­tu­ary as part of the Day­ton Cen­tral Amer­i­ca Sol­i­dar­i­ty Committee:

It was more church-relat­ed, but sol­i­dar­i­ty was in there too. We were kind of the rab­ble-rousers,” she laughs.

Refugee sto­ries from the sanc­tu­ary move­ment served a cru­cial politi­ciz­ing role.

[The tes­ti­mo­ny] woke peo­ple up, real­ly. [We were able to] con­sci­en­tize peo­ple from those fam­i­lies’ tes­ti­monies about the war and why peo­ple were leav­ing. […] It was a plat­form to speak out about the plight of the refugees who were flee­ing the vio­lence that was per­pe­trat­ed by U.S. policy.

The role of Cen­tral Amer­i­can refugees in the move­ment was by no means lim­it­ed to that of vic­tims and witnesses.

You can real­ly see the influ­ence of the refugees of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans them­selves, the role that they played in build­ing both the sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment and the sanc­tu­ary move­ment,” Angela San­bra­no empha­sizes. In Los Angeles,

the refugees start­ed to do march­es and they were doing pick­ets and they were let­ting peo­ple know about the war. […] I start­ed going to the ral­lies. […] They would see that I was inter­est­ed so they start­ed talk­ing to me to help them get [access to] facil­i­ties at the school so they could have meet­ings. I got involved by them recruit­ing me.

In fact, the Cen­tral Amer­i­ca sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment was found­ed in large part by Cen­tral Amer­i­can exiles in the 1970s. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Nicaraguans and Sal­vado­rans, par­tic­u­lar­ly, formed polit­i­cal groups and orga­nized to denounce the esca­lat­ing vio­lence in their home coun­tries. These activists drew U.S. cit­i­zens to their cause, and helped facil­i­tate con­nec­tions between the emerg­ing U.S. move­ment and left­ist insur­gen­cies and social move­ments in Cen­tral America.

As the waves of migra­tion increased in the 1980s, refugees also formed mutu­al aid orga­ni­za­tions like CARE­CEN and El Rescate in Los Ange­les that played key roles in the legal bat­tles to pro­tect asy­lum seek­ers from deportation.


While the entire move­ment was involved in anti-inter­ven­tion work, oppos­ing U.S. aid to the Sal­vado­ran and Guatemalan regimes and to the con­tras in Nicaragua, the more rad­i­cal wing was involved in direct sol­i­dar­i­ty with left­ist social move­ments and armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces like the San­din­istas in Nicaragua and the Farabun­do Martí Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front (FMLN) in El Sal­vador resist­ing reac­tionary U.S.-backed armies and attempt­ing to build just, equi­table societies.

These groups drew from a long lega­cy of U.S. anti-impe­ri­al­ist inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty orga­niz­ing, from the 1898 Anti-Impe­ri­al­ist League, sol­i­dar­i­ty with the orig­i­nal San­din­ista in the 1920s, U.S.-Chile sol­i­dar­i­ty in the wake of the 1973 U.S.-backed coup, to the 1975 Puer­to Rican Sol­i­dar­i­ty Committee.

They includ­ed the Nicaragua Sol­i­dar­i­ty Net­work, found­ed in 1979 fol­low­ing the Sandinista’s over­throw of the Somoza dic­ta­tor­ship; CIS­PES, which was found­ed in 1980 at the dawn of what would be a twelve-year civ­il war and became the largest and most for­mi­da­ble of the sol­i­dar­i­ty groups; the Net­work in Sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Peo­ple of Guatemala (NIS­GUA), formed in 1981; the SHARE Foun­da­tion, a faith-based, El Sal­vador-focused ini­tia­tive, born in 1981; and Wit­ness for Peace, also a faith-based group, estab­lished in 1983 to counter the Con­tra War in Nicaragua.

The direct rela­tion­ships that the sol­i­dar­i­ty groups main­tained with their rev­o­lu­tion­ary coun­ter­parts in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca grant­ed these orga­ni­za­tions a pow­er­ful polit­i­cal engine for their orga­niz­ing. They were not just fight­ing against U.S. impe­r­i­al vio­lence, but for a rad­i­cal polit­i­cal project.

Leslie Schuld explains, CIS­PES from the very begin­ning defined itself as a sol­i­dar­i­ty orga­ni­za­tion, which was very impor­tant: it wasn’t just anti-inter­ven­tion. […] We were respond­ing to an orga­nized move­ment in El Sal­vador, and CIS­PES, we were seen as play­ers, we were seen as part of the strat­e­gy rather than just human­i­tar­i­an aid fundrais­ers or charity.”

This sol­i­dar­i­ty orga­niz­ing took many forms. The Nicaragua groups orga­nized brigades to work in the San­din­istas’ cof­fee har­vests and pro­vide human rights accom­pa­ni­ment in the face of Con­tra assaults. Wit­ness for Peace brought over 10,000 peo­ple to Nicaragua over the course of the decade.

SHARE, for its part, orga­nized del­e­ga­tions from the U.S. to accom­pa­ny orga­nized Sal­vado­ran refugees in their jour­neys from camps in Hon­duras to repop­u­late their aban­doned com­mu­ni­ties in war­zones. CIS­PES took del­e­ga­tions into FMLN-held ter­ri­to­ries and host­ed speak­ing tours for FMLN and Sal­vado­ran social move­ment lead­ers. NIS­GUA brought Rigob­er­ta Menchú and oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives on a six-month tour across the Unit­ed States to denounce the U.S.-sponsored vio­lence against indige­nous peo­ples in Guatemala.

These on-the-ground rela­tion­ships with orga­nized Cen­tral Amer­i­can move­ments cre­at­ed rapid inter­na­tion­al response net­works to human rights crises.

Lives were saved,” remem­bers Schuld. We would send telex­es when peo­ple were cap­tured. If there wasn’t that inter­na­tion­al atten­tion, peo­ple would be killed. They dis­ap­peared. So we respond­ed numer­ous times to human rights vio­la­tions and peo­ple were released because of that pressure.”

Among the notable anti-inter­ven­tion ini­tia­tives of the sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment was the Pledge of Resis­tance cam­paign, which was born in 1983 after the U.S. inva­sion of Grana­da sparked fears of a forth­com­ing U.S. inva­sion of Nicaragua.

Ini­tial­ly a Nicaragua-focused cam­paign with sig­nif­i­cant sup­port from Wit­ness for Peace, Sojourn­ers, and the Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee, the Pledge went on to expand to include oppo­si­tion to broad­er U.S. inter­ven­tion in the region with sup­port from sec­u­lar groups like CIS­PES and the Nicaragua Sol­i­dar­i­ty Net­work. By late 1985, 80,000 peo­ple had signed the pledge to resist U.S.-sponsored vio­lence in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca. These sup­port­ers mobi­lized in mas­sive protests, direct actions, civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, and con­gres­sion­al pres­sure through­out the decade.

The direct actions orga­nized by the sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment were mil­i­tant and dra­mat­ic. In 1987, Viet­nam vet­er­ans staged a block­ade at the Con­cord Naval Weapons Sta­tion in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, a prin­ci­pal source of U.S. arms shipped to El Sal­vador and beyond. One of the vet­er­ans, Bri­an Will­son, ini­ti­at­ed a hunger strike on the train tracks and lost both his legs and near­ly his life after a train ran him over. This tragedy prompt­ed an even greater, sus­tained mobi­liza­tion against the arms ship­ments last­ing anoth­er two years.

Oth­er actions, like the 1988 mobi­liza­tion to shut down the Pen­ta­gon, saw hun­dreds arrest­ed. The sol­i­dar­i­ty movement’s mil­i­tan­cy and, in many cas­es, unapolo­getic alle­giances to armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments, earned the ire of the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion, prompt­ing sev­er­al covert FBI inves­ti­ga­tions, sur­veil­lance, and harassment.

Sanc­tu­ary Today

As no one will be sur­prised to learn, the Cen­tral Amer­i­ca sol­i­dar­i­ty move­ment did not end U.S. inter­ven­tion in the region. It can, how­ev­er, claim a num­ber of impor­tant victories.

Thou­sands of refugees found sup­port and, even­tu­al­ly, legal sta­tus thanks to the tire­less work of the sanc­tu­ary move­ment. Fero­cious mass oppo­si­tion to U.S. sup­port for death squads, para­mil­i­taries, and fascis­tic regimes pre­vent­ed the esca­la­tion of U.S. mil­i­tary engage­ment, even­tu­al­ly help­ing pave the way for peace nego­ti­a­tions, and a gen­er­a­tion of orga­niz­ers was rad­i­cal­ized. Impor­tant­ly, last­ing rela­tion­ships were built between Cen­tral Amer­i­can and U.S. activists.

While the bulk of the sol­i­dar­i­ty orga­ni­za­tions and net­works dwin­dled and dis­si­pat­ed in the mid 1990s, some groups, like CIS­PES, con­tin­ue to orga­nize against U.S. impe­ri­al­ism and accom­pa­ny pop­u­lar strug­gles in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca today.

The sol­i­dar­i­ty rela­tion­ship was key,” says Leslie Schuld, because it didn’t end when the war ended.”

Sanc­tu­ary, which essen­tial­ly end­ed in the 1990s as more avenues for res­i­den­cy were made avail­able to refugees, has expe­ri­enced a resur­gence in recent years in response to the con­sol­i­dat­ing mass depor­ta­tion régime as the New Sanc­tu­ary Move­ment.

On Octo­ber 14, 2014, Eileen Pur­cell, who worked with the Arch­dio­cese of San Fran­cis­co as a young sanc­tu­ary orga­niz­er in the 1980s, reflect­ed on the move­ment at a gath­er­ing of the East Bay Sanc­tu­ary Covenant at Saint John’s Pres­by­ter­ian Church in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia: Sanctuary’s suc­cess­es were many,” she told the audi­ence. But we did not end the poli­cies and lega­cies of war. Today we face the new vio­lence born of so-called free trade,’ the drug war, unjust immi­gra­tion laws, glob­al­iza­tion and a neolib­er­al project on steroids.”

The con­tem­po­rary call for sanc­tu­ary is more urgent now than ever. So far in FY 2017, near­ly 4,000 peo­ple have been ordered deport­ed from Cal­i­for­nia and over 1,900 from New York alone (as of Feb­ru­ary). As a result of Trump’s exec­u­tive orders, mil­lions more are vul­ner­a­ble. Immi­gra­tion raids have already begun. Many of those tar­get­ed face vio­lence and pover­ty in their coun­tries of birth; oth­ers are wrenched from their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties where they have built their lives and livelihoods.

In order to tru­ly chal­lenge the racist, prof­it-dri­ven mass depor­ta­tion sys­tem, sanc­tu­ary can­not be restrict­ed to those we con­sid­er refugees. Our new sanc­tu­ary move­ment must defend all migrants, regard­less of their legal sta­tus, motives for migrat­ing, or crim­i­nal his­to­ry (with an excep­tion, per­haps, for war crim­i­nals). This is the rad­i­cal truth rec­og­nized by groups like the #Not1More depor­ta­tion cam­paign and oth­er migrant jus­tice advocates.

To do so, we must also fight the U.S.-pushed bor­der mil­i­ta­riza­tion that has sought to out­source the depor­ta­tion of Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrants to Mex­i­co. And we have to oppose the eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary poli­cies that have con­tributed to the caus­es of forced migra­tion — not just in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and Mex­i­co, but across the Mid­dle East and North Africa, where U.S. drone strikes and spe­cial oper­a­tions raids are ter­ror­iz­ing civil­ians and cre­at­ing new gen­er­a­tions of refugees.

The move­ment of the 1980s taught us that sanc­tu­ary is not just about des­ig­nat­ing sites of human­i­tar­i­an refuge. It’s about sol­i­dar­i­ty. Those activists upheld sanc­tu­ary as a prac­tice in defi­ance not just of U.S. domes­tic immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy, but the destruc­tive for­eign pol­i­cy that forces migra­tion and sub­verts pop­u­lar rev­o­lu­tion­ary movements.

That’s the rad­i­cal sanc­tu­ary we need today: a grass­roots move­ment unit­ing strug­gles in defense of immi­grants and refugees across borders.

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Hilary Good­friend is a researcher in El Sal­vador. A grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty in Latin Amer­i­can Stud­ies, she is cur­rent­ly com­plet­ing a mas­ter’s the­sis at the Cen­tral Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty (UCA) in San Salvador.
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