Sanctuary and Its Consequences: Central American Refugees, Government Officials, and Religious Activists

Saturday, January 7, 2012
Sheraton Ballroom II (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
John T. Rosinbum, Arizona State University
During the 1980s well over one million Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans fled their homelands and migrated to the United States and Canada.  Spurred north by the horrific levels of violence and economic strife brought on by civil wars, they encountered two countries that were deeply ambivalent about their presence.  US and Canadian Nativists feared that incoming migrants usurped local jobs and took advantage of government social policies.  The US government believed that the presence of potential refugees from countries they were supporting was a threat to domestic support for its foreign policy. The Canadian government was wary of upsetting its powerful southern neighbor.  In both countries social activists concerned about the Reagan administration’s ruthless approach to foreign policy saw Central Americans’ tortured bodies as living proof of the immorality of the US government’s approach to fighting the supposed spread of communism.

This poster focuses on the Sanctuary Movement, an international network of churches, synagogues and private homes founded in 1982 dedicated to fighting US and Canadian injustices towards Central American migrants.  The Movement intentionally highlighted the stories of Central Americans who were on the verge of deportation, daring immigration officials to violate the sanctity of houses of worship to apprehend undocumented migrants.  Using private photographs, interview transcripts and other forms of original research, this poster examines the process of providing sanctuary, finding that it was both a political and a humanitarian act with long ranging consequences that reverberated throughout the community. Local law enforcement had to decide whether to prosecute upstanding members of their communities for publicly flouting immigration laws.  Religious activists saw their faith tested in ways that they could not have imagined.  Finally, inequalities in power between migrants and activists resulted in intended and unintended impositions of gender and religious norms.   By the conclusion of the sanctuary experience members in the community had been changed forever.  I hope that this poster will educate members of the AHA about the social, cultural and political effects of immigration-based civil disobedience on local communities.

See more of: Poster Session, Part 1
See more of: AHA Sessions