The word “sanctuary” is a common epithet thrown around Republican circles in the presidential primaries. The idea of harboring undocumented immigrants in “sanctuary cities” was fodder for attack in many Republican debates. The New Sanctuary Movement is turning the idea of sanctuary around, defying current immigration laws, and using churches throughout the United States to offer refuge to undocumented immigrants. According to its website, the organization offers protection to immigrants facing deportation “whose legal cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system while working to support legislation that would change their situation.”
Although the churches are unable to offer legal protection to undocumented immigrants, Sasha Abramsky of the Nation writes, “the cloak of religious authority, the aura of sacred space, does seem to provide a moral protection, making government agencies that much more reluctant to go after people facing deportation.” Abramsky reports that faith-based groups in California, New York, Illinois, Arizona, and Washington are joining the movement and working to interject a human-rights angle into the often callous debate.
The goals of the New Sanctuary Movement may be laudable, but some progressives take issue with the organization’s methods. Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University’s School of Law is quoted in the piece saying that the effect of the New Sanctuary Movement is “more symbolic than meaningful” adding that the churches may violate the separation between church and state.