What is Sanctuary?

An Ancient Tradition of Faith Communities
Sanctuary is one of the most ancient traditions that we have as a people of faith. The ancient Hebrew people had allowed temples and even whole cities to declare themselves places of refuge for persons accused of a crime they may not have committed, a practice that allowed those wrongfully accused to escape swift and harsh retribution until the matter could be resolved. In the late Roman Empire fugitives could find refuge in the precincts of Christian churches. Later, during the medieval period churches in England were recognized sanctuaries, offering safe haven for a temporary period to accused wrong doers. In the United States the first practical provision of anything like sanctuary occurred in the years before the Civil War. The Underground Railroad came into being to help slaves flee the South and find safety in many congregations throughout the country. Sanctuary is about providing safe space to those who are victims of unjust laws.

Reflections on taking part in the sanctuary movement, from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC):


The Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s
When refugees from the Civil Wars in Central America began to flee to the United States in the 1980’s, the U.S. government did not recognize them as political refugees. Many were deported and received by death squads upon their return. From this dire injustice, the Sanctuary Movement was born. It peaked with over 500 congregations establishing an underground railroad whereby refugees move through the United States to safe houses and safe congregations. Many clergy in the Tucson area were indicted and eventually acquitted for their involvement in assisting Central American refugees. The Sanctuary Movement sought to remind the United States government of its own asylum and refugee laws, which they were not following when it came to the refugees of Central America.

Current Day Sanctuary Movement
Drawing on this tradition, communities of faith have once again seen the need to declare Sanctuary for immigrants as the rise of deportations continues to separate families. In the 1980’s we were compelled by the call to welcome the stranger, as we opened our doors to newly arriving refugees. Now we are moved by the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, as those who are entering into Sanctuary are most often long term members of our communities – our neighbors.

In 2007, an initiative known as the New Sanctuary Movement took shape with coalitions of congregations in major cities throughout the country. As work place and neighborhood raids escalated, these congregations opened their doors to provide refuge to those facing deportation. See the NSM toolkit here (http://imirj.org/new-sanctuary-movement-toolkit-for-congregations/).

The New Sanctuary Movement helped win the Morton Memo and Prosecutorial Discretion in 2011 and President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration in 2014, which has helped stop thousands of deportations through case-by-case advocacy. Those entering sanctuary are generally eligible for Prosecutorial Discretion, but local ICE field offices have been very reluctant to offer this relief from deportations, leading the sanctuary community to engage in public advocacy to win stays of removal or an order of supervision in most cases.

In the Diocese of Oregon

As the Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley reiterated in his Election Statement, we commit “to protect and defend the human dignity of immigrants, refugees, and those who fear deportation. Our churches will be sanctuaries for those whose safety and security is threatened.” We encourage all our parishes and missions to enter into dialogue about the deeper meaning of sanctuary and the actions we can take to support immigrants.

We recognize this is a new topic for most of our congregations, and that there is a need for much education around the concept of sanctuary as well as the realities of immigration in the United States. As such, we have a number of resources to help your community engage your questions thoughtfully and compassionately.

New Sanctuary Movement Introduction and Toolkit

Immigrant Welcoming Congregation Declaration from St. Michael & All Angels, Portland

Immigrant Welcoming Community Rapid Response Plan from St. Michael & All Angels, Portland

Family Preparedness Plan (English) from Latino Network and the Oregon Law Center

Proteja Su Familia (Family Preparedness Plan, Spanish) from Latino Network and the Oregon Law Center

Cómo actuar en caso de detención migratoria (How to act in case of immigration detention) from the Mexican Consulate

Qué hace un consulado por ti (What does a consulate do for you?) from the Mexican Consulate

Cómo actuar si te detienen por una infracción de tránsito (How to act if you are arrested for a traffic violation) from the Mexican Consulate

Prevención de estafas (Preventing scams) from the Mexican Consulate

Servicios de un Consulado y reglas de convivencia (Services of a Consulate and rules of coexistence) from the Mexican Consulate

Immigrants Rights: videos from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC):