What Is Sanctuary?Every human being wants to belong somewhere. Policies that protect the vulnerable are vital. So is individual action.scroll down arrow

Protesters at Los Angeles International Airport oppose the immigration ban.Photo by Ken Shin

Shelter and Safety, the Oldest of IdeasIn pre-modern times, before the state was tasked with sheltering the homeless or granting asylum to refugees, the care of strangers fell to regular citizens.

Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

The concept of providing refuge is ancient. Above, Persian Shah Tahmasp I, right, gives shelter to the deposed Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1544 in what is now Iran.Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

For much of human history, kindness to foreigners has been a cherished trait. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself,” commanded the Old Testament. In Homer’s epic, Odysseus traveled at the mercy of strangers, seeking out shelter in unknown lands. All throughout the ancient texts, divine beings masquerade as vagabonds, their disguises designed to test the mercy of their hosts. Graciousness is summarily rewarded, while hostility or indifference leads to carnage and despair. Hospitality narratives highlight the rules of etiquette that once bound host to guest. The beginnings of Western civilization were shaped by these same codes of conduct. But now, at least throughout much of the developed world, hospitality—that safe harbor for weary travelers—is in danger of disappearing.

Ariel Sophia Bardi

Ariel Sophia Bardi is a journalist and researcher, currently based in Delhi. She writes on travel, borders, and development.

One of the lingering cruelties of President Trump’s proposed travel bans is that they target some of the regions of the globe where hospitality is still sacrosanct. In disdaining places where culture is still defined by generosity, the U.S. is not only imperiling its public image, but upending the basic humanity that once governed the world.

“The industrialized countries, obedient to a cold rationality, have had to unlearn hospitality,” observes the Moroccan-French writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, chronicling the rise of bigotry in France. “Time is precious and space limited,” he laments. “Doors are shut, and so are hearts.” The ancient Greek concept of “xenia” originally signaled friendship between strangers—usually from distant foreign lands. Today, it survives in the English-speaking world as the prefix to xenophobia.

But despite decades of geopolitical strain, hospitality still remains a crowning feature of the contemporary Middle East. On a solo backpacking trip across North Africa and the Levant, I once disembarked, hot and disheveled, from a bumpy shared taxi in Irbid, an industrial city in northern Jordan not far from the Syrian border. Dust streaked my face; I was wracked with thirst. Suddenly, I found myself greeted with an unexpected act of welcome: A stranger appeared, handed me a chunk of juicy watermelon, then vanished back into the crowd.

“It’s something in our hearts. We can’t help it,” a Syrian grad student told me recently, explaining Middle Eastern hospitality while swatting away mosquitos at a Delhi rooftop party. It was in considering how frequently and blithely I had already tromped around Muslim-majority countries that Trump’s proposed bans struck me not only as illegal, but also as intolerably unfair.

Every client receives a personal guarantee. “I don’t promise that I’ll get them housing, and I don’t promise they’ll get a green card,” Corado says. “What I do promise is that they won’t struggle alone. They will have love.”
Excerpt from Extra Kindness for the Most Vulnerable (and Resilient) Mariposas

From the Editors

Compassionate Defiance

  • Clo Copass

    Copass

  • Shannan Stoll

    Stoll

  • Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz

    Loeffelholz

In the 1930s, a million Mexican people were forced out of the United States across the border into Mexico. It wasn’t called deportation then—euphemistically it was referred to as repatriation. About 60 percent of those people were actually U.S. citizens. In 1942, the government incarcerated all Japanese people on the West Coast. Two-thirds were U.S. citizens. The previous century gave us the Know Nothing Party wanting to ban Catholic immigrants. Missouri’s Extermination Order of 1838 made Mormons enemies of the state. It was legal to kill them.

Cover of YES! Issue 82

This country is not new to religious exclusion and intolerance for immigrants.

That ugly history has actually given us valuable skills of resistance—strong moral and political muscles—as Mary Turck says in her article for this issue. We know how to stand up for ourselves against wrong-headed governments. We know not to be quiet when we see our neighbors being treated unjustly.

Days after President Trump took office, he showed that closing the borders to Muslims—particularly refugees—and deporting undocumented people would be among his highest priorities. His first travel ban set off chaos and confusion at airports across the nation. But just as swiftly, Americans headed to the airports to show their opposition. Some offered legal aid, some engaged in disruptive protesting, and others just wanted to be there to stand in solidarity with foreign-born people and their families.

That homegrown resistance hasn’t let up.

Every day we hear of anti-immigrant violence and the increasing fears among immigrants regardless of legal status. We also hear about mayors of big cities and small towns shaking their fists at the federal government: “We are a sanctuary city.”

Those are bold and brave stances. So thank you, Santa Ana. That sanctuary city is a vital immigrant foothold—78 percent Latino—situated within Orange County, California, one of the nation’s most politically conservative places. These sanctuary proclamations show the world an alternative America not governed by xenophobia. They also let 11 million undocumented people know that in some places they can feel a tiny bit less afraid.

Sanctuary cities are not enough, though. The broken immigration system begins with an economy that relies on immigrant labor but doesn’t value the people doing the work. It continues in federal policies that have made an unjust mess of work visa programs and reasonable paths to citizenship. While we look for the political will to change these systems, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves what kind of a society we want to be: Will we offer compassion to those struggling the most to build safe lives?

That’s why the real work of sanctuary—creating safety and shelter and welcome—mostly falls to ordinary people: neighbors and often strangers willing to demand justice for others. This issue celebrates their compassionate defiance.




Return to the story

In the age of Trump, Brexit, and the resurgence of nationalism around the world, pining for unified, pre-immigrant cultures has become a common conservative refrain. But it is nationalism—not multiculturalism—that remains the modern and alien invention. Long before walls, bans, and border control regulated and restricted mobility, territories were still fuzzy, and diversity in languages, religions, and ethnicities was the norm. The medieval world was, above all, overrun with travelers: Merchants, pilgrims, bureaucrats, missionaries, and vagrants all crisscrossed adjacent lands. Traveling was seen not only as a privilege, but also an inalienable right.

The 14th-century Moroccan travel writer Abdallah Ibn Battuta spent 30 years journeying the globe. In his travelogues, he is seldom, if ever, asked why. When he reached Delhi, rather than ousting him from India as an unknown interloper, the sultan granted him a prestigious government post on the spot. The king “makes a practice of honoring strangers and distinguishing them by governorships or high dignitaries of State,” explained Battuta. All foreigners were referred to by the title Aziz, meaning honorable.

Islamic law enshrined hospitality as a moral imperative. With minimal infrastructure for tourism, the hosting of strangers required complex rules of etiquette. “There is no good in someone who is not hospitable,” reportedly cautioned the Prophet Mohammad. One hadith, or teaching of the prophet, stated that guests must be put up for at least one night.

When Ibn Battuta fell ill with a fever in Damascus, a local professor took him home to recover. “When I desired to take my leave the next morning he would not hear of it,” wrote Battuta, “but said to me, ‘Consider my house as your own.’”

Even during conflict, rules of hospitality were upheld. At the tail end of the Crusades, Dominican monk Ricoldo da Monte Croce spent several years in enemy territory, leisurely sojourning through modern-day Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Iran. Though sharply critical of Islam, da Monte Croce nonetheless heaped praise on his hosts. “They really received us as if we were angels of God,” he wrote of the Muslims who welcomed him to Baghdad, extolling their “serious ways, their kindness to strangers, and their concord and love towards each other.”

This cultured society relied on a reserve of slave labor. But shades of courtly nuance softened the barbarism of the age. In the caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, who ruled much of the Islamic world from 786 to 809, one young slave sang so beautifully that the king appointed him to a paid position in the palace. Buying a slave’s freedom, along with feeding strangers, was considered an act of virtue—a way for elites to demonstrate their duties as host (freeing caged birds presented a cheaper alternative). In Muslim empires, religious minorities were accepted as dhimmis, or protected people. Technically second-class citizens, they still fared comparatively well. In Alexandria, Christian refugees were granted official protection by the governor during the Crusades. A Frenchman visiting Cairo was surprised to see “Muslim Arabs, Christians, and Jews all living together.”

Over millennia of trial and error, and particularly during times of global conflict, the relationship between guest and host has both enriched human existence and proven itself indispensable to our species’ survival. But in a world of heightened suspicions and tightening borders, hospitality risks being eroded—even in its strongholds. Travelers may still enjoy friendly welcomes in the Middle East, but the region’s demographics have shifted, and it now finds itself appreciably less multiethnic and multifaith. Nationalism has persisted in ejecting minority identities all over the globe, and doors continue to slam shut.

In pre-modern times, before the state was tasked with sheltering the homeless or granting asylum to refugees, the care of strangers fell to regular citizens. Now, in view of the Trump administration’s extraordinary failings, hospitality again falls to the people. If hospitality has been unlearned, then surely it can still be learned again, adding a social justice framework to the enduring rites of the past. Welcoming becomes a radical act: In the context of threatened travel bans, Islamophobia, and an ongoing refugee crisis, our hospitable roots again need to take hold.

Ariel Sophia Bardi

Ariel Sophia Bardi is a journalist and researcher, currently based in Delhi. She writes on travel, borders, and development.

Moral and Political Muscles of Resistance

Photo by Karen H. Black/iStock

Photo by Karen H. Black/iStock

Under the Trump administration’s new executive orders, these are the scenes repeated in many cities: Immigration agents swoop in and take away a domestic abuse victim leaving a court building. They roust a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status from his bed. They arrest people showing up at immigration offices for routine appointments. In this atmosphere of anger, fear, and confusion, local governments, as well as churches, schools, and hospitals, are declaring themselves “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.

Mary Turck

Mary Turck is a freelance writer and editor and lifelong activist and teaches journalism at Macalester College.

But what does that really mean?

States, cities, school districts, and universities are all defying federal orders with sanctuary declarations. And in response to threats from the Trump administration, Seattle is now one of at least six local governments to sue the federal government, alleging state’s rights violations among other constitutional issues. These sanctuary policies are varied, as each local government defines its own sanctuary work. And there’s another kind of sanctuary too, declared by a church, synagogue, or mosque.

The bottom line is that no local policy can actually prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from conducting raids, making arrests, or deporting undocumented immigrants. But the sanctuary movement is not without power. Importantly, it serves as a public statement, and this public commitment has powerful political and moral impact.

Jeanette Vizguerra has lived in the United States for about 20 years and has lived with a deportation order hanging over her head for years. She was required to check in with ICE each year to ask for a stay of deportation. But this year, instead of going to ICE for her check-in, Vizguerra asked for sanctuary in the First Unitarian church in Denver.

First Unitarian is among the growing number of religious congregations pledging sanctuary, a number that more than doubled in the months immediately following the 2016 presidential election. Many more have pledged material support and volunteer help to the 800-plus congregations offering physical shelter. Along with Christian and Jewish congregations, a Cincinnati mosque became the first mosque to declare itself a sanctuary in January.

When a religious congregation offers sanctuary, it often provides a place to live and a hope of protection from arrest. So far, that works. But the law does allow police or ICE officials to go into a place of worship (or a school or a hospital) and arrest undocumented immigrants. Though it would be legal, it wouldn’t look pretty.

Under the Obama administration, ICE was directed not to enter “sensitive locations.” While it’s tough to tell rumors and leaks from memos and orders, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is clearly playing by the new president’s tough-guy rulebook on immigration. According to leaked memos, Kelly plans to rescind all Obama-era guidelines, including the one on sensitive locations. Would ICE officials actually invade churches, schools, and hospitals to drag people out and deport them? We don’t know yet.

Refusing to cooperate with ICE

When cities declare sanctuary status, they’re mostly invoking a separation ordinance. Despite heated rhetoric, sanctuary ordinances can only affect the way in which city employees—from police to librarians—carry out their jobs.

A city separation ordinance directs city employees, including police, not to inquire about the immigration status of anyone who has not been convicted of a crime. St. Paul, Minnesota, passed a separation ordinance in 2004, and after the election of Trump, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman issued a strong statement explaining the city’s stance:

“The City of Saint Paul wants all its residents to feel comfortable seeking out City services—including law enforcement—when they are in need. We want everyone to call the police when they are the victim of or witness to a crime without fear they will be asked about their immigration status. We want everyone to call the paramedics in a medical emergency, enroll their children in after-school programs or use our library services. Our staff—including our police officers—will not ask for proof of immigration status. Period.”

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is one of about 60 high-ranking law enforcement officials who sent a letter to U.S. senators explaining that this practice makes law enforcement work better. But, Stanek told a local newspaper, “there is no sanctuary once you go to jail.” Going to jail means fingerprints, which go to the FBI and into a database that ICE regularly checks.

A city’s non-collaboration also might include refusing to hold people on ICE detainers, an instruction from ICE to hold a prisoner past a legal release date until ICE decides whether to pick them up for deportation proceedings. Several courts have held that these detainers are unconstitutional, but ICE continues to use them. As a practical matter, even in jurisdictions that refuse to hold people on ICE detainers, ICE agents can still wait at the door of the jail when someone is released.

States jump in on both sides

Each jurisdiction’s laws come at sanctuary in different ways. Oregon has a strong statewide separation law, which dates back to 1987. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have wrangled over ways to strengthen the state’s “Trust Act,” a law passed four years ago that limits police collaboration with ICE.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has given a broad set of protections to the undocumented immigrants living in his state. His February executive order says state agencies may not discriminate against immigrants or deny public benefits, “except as required by international, federal, or state law.” In addition, the order forbids inquiries into immigration status, registering people on the basis of religious affiliation, and “targeting or apprehending” people for violation of federal civil immigration laws.

Several other states are considering similar laws. In Massachusetts and Maryland, Democratic legislatures have expressed support for sanctuary laws—however, Republican governors in both states are likely to veto.

On the other side, there are conservative states supporting the Trump crackdown by going after their rogue cities. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott canceled $15 million in state funding for law enforcement in Travis County for refusal to honor ICE detainers and asked the Legislature to give him authority to fire elected officials in sanctuary jurisdictions.

In Colorado, the political complexity of the issue is apparent. There, the Legislature is considering both a bill declaring sanctuary status and a bill that would punish public officials in sanctuary jurisdictions, creating a felony offense of “rendering assistance to an illegal alien.” With a divided legislature, neither proposal is likely to pass.

11 MILLION

UNDOCUMENTED

2015

40%

60%

entered the

U.S. without

authorization

overstayed

their visa

terms

They have put down roots.

66%

have lived in the U.S. 10 years or more. Median is 13.6 years.

2014

They are raising the next

generation of U.S. citizens.

7%

79%

of children in

the U.S. lived

with undocumented parents

of those children were U.S. citizens

2009–2013

They pay into Social Security.

$13 billion

in Social Security taxes

$10.6 billion

in state and local taxes

2013

11 MILLION

UNDOCUMENTED

2015

40%

60%

entered the

U.S. without

authorization

overstayed

their visa

terms

They have put down roots.

66%

have lived in the U.S. 10 years or more. Median is 13.6 years.

2014

They are raising the next

generation of U.S. citizens.

7%

79%

of children in

the U.S. lived

with undocumented parents

of those children were U.S. citizens

2009–2013

They pay into Social Security.

$13 billion

in Social Security taxes

$10.6 billion

in state and local taxes

2013

Welcome and solidarity

Regardless of city sanctuary policies, communities are finding creative ways to offer support to undocumented immigrants.

Chicago Public Schools, for example, will not allow immigration authorities to enter a school unless they have a warrant. Other districts offer training for teachers and support groups for immigrant students, and distribute cards telling students (and their parents) what their rights are if ICE agents knock on their doors.

Concrete financial and physical support can come in the form of funding for legal assistance for immigrants facing deportation or offering social services. Immigration and asylum status is considered by the courts to be a civil matter, so attorneys are usually not provided. But, in 2013, New York City began funding public defenders for immigrants in deportation proceedings, and now New York state plans to expand the program to cover immigration courts in the rest of the state. The state of California is considering a similar plan, and Los Angeles and San Francisco also have programs or plans to fund legal representation.

The good that sanctuary can do

While no kind of sanctuary policy can stop an ICE raid, sanctuary declarations can have a powerful impact—perhaps most importantly in strengthening the moral and political muscle of resistance.

By naming their houses of worship as sanctuaries, individuals are making a defiant stand. Even those whose congregations cannot offer actual shelter can still contribute time, money, and solidarity.

The sanctuary movement offers a route to converting hearts and minds. When a church, synagogue, or mosque offers sanctuary, each member of the congregation is introduced to an immigrant and their story. Immigration policy then changes from a distant political debate to an intensely personal question.

Coming together around sanctuary strengthens the identity of a community. The political process of declaring sanctuary in a city, county, or state includes building alliances, public hearings, and public commitments by individuals, civic groups, and political figures. As the community makes a commitment, they stand in opposition to the broken immigration system and national anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Participation in the process strengthens the muscle of resistance.

Here we stand, together, a sanctuary decision declares. We stand with immigrants. We stand with the oppressed.

Mary Turck

Mary Turck is a freelance writer and editor and lifelong activist and teaches journalism at Macalester College.

Just the Facts

In An Unfair Immigration System, One Fix Is Catching On

Before deportation, undocumented people have the right to an immigration court hearing. Because it is a civil matter rather than criminal, a lawyer is not provided. Most immigrants, often with English as a second language, are left to face complex proceedings on their own. New York City began a pilot immigration public defender system in 2013. This April, New York state allocated $10 million to create the Liberty Defense Project fund, making it the first in the nation to ensure legal representation for immigrants. Here’s why that’s an easy start to fixing a broken system.

YES! infographic by Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz
Photo Essay

In One of the Nation’s Most Conservative Places, A Sanctuary City

Protection, shelter, fear, and displacement: I found them all in Santa Ana, California, a self-proclaimed “sanctuary city.” This was my first home in the U.S. after my mom brought me here as a child. I remember a vibrant Fourth Street, a hub for all Mexican-related things, from homemade tortillas to traditional music.

Josué Rivas

Josué Rivas is an indigenous documentary photographer. He spent much of 2016 documenting the Standing Rock resistance.

Though much has changed in the 18 years since I lived there, Santa Ana remains the epicenter for social justice activism in Orange County, one of the most conservative places in the country. The people are the spirit of this community, and they have mobilized to protect their undocumented brothers and sisters. In December, the Santa Ana City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of city resources for immigration enforcement. This was a positive step toward becoming an actual sanctuary for undocumented people. But even in a sanctuary city, there’s more work to do. Advocacy groups, such as Resilience Orange County, lead the fight for fair implementation of sanctuary practices and transparency from the city.

Photo by Josué Rivas

Carlos works with Resilience OC, which organizes grassroots deportation defense and educates youth of color and their families to become outspoken leaders in their community. His demeanor is the spirit of that movement and brings a little bit of gentleness into the crazy world of trying to prevent deportations and mobilizing people to protest. His story is very similar to my story. His mother sacrificed a lot to bring him to this country to pursue higher education. He’s here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Photo by Josué Rivas
Photo by Josué Rivas

Undocumented folks live in fear of the day they will be pulled over by the police or have an encounter with any sort of authorities. When ICE chased down this undocumented young man and his father, Resilience OC’s Abraham and Carlos arrived within minutes and immediately got to work: They took photos and livestreamed, contacted their network to get the word out about what happened, called attorneys. Advocacy is basically the community coming together to document and monitor these enforcements. They talk to immigration agents. They talk to police. They become involved. They keep the law enforcement accountable. They are unafraid.

Photo by Josué Rivas
Photo by Josué Rivas

Inside the Santa Ana Resilience OC office, activists have created a sanctuary of their own. This is a poster created by my friend Ernesto Yerena. Art has become an important tool for social justice movements. This poster honors and brings out the beauty of these movements.

Photo by Josué Rivas

I met Marilyn when I was in high school. She reminded me a lot of Mother Earth back then and still does. She holds so much responsibility for her family. She has the privilege of citizenship, as opposed to her parents. As she told me her story, she sometimes got overwhelmed by her situation. If her parents are detained or deported, she will be the one to take care of her brothers and sisters. So she is a sanctuary for her family. This reminded me of the resilience of our women of color, which I have personally experienced in my family with my mother and my sisters. And in indigenous communities across the U.S., the women are the sanctuary, just as Mother Earth is the sanctuary for all of us. Marilyn is holding in a lot. I wanted to be of some sort of service to her and lift up her spirit. She is a warrior.

Photo by Josué Rivas

I came to Santa Ana for this photo project in days that were politically crucial to the sanctuary movement. Jose Solorio, a council member, was trying to bring back the city’s jail contract with ICE. This really shows the contradicting opinions within the Santa Ana government. The city dances with the idea of truly being a sanctuary city, but in reality it has benefitted from the detention of undocumented people. The city built a very expensive jail, and ICE paid them to be able to use the jail as a detention center. But the community spoke out against this, and the council at the end of the night did not reinstate the contract. A week later Solorio tried again. He failed.

Photo by Josué Rivas
Photo by Josué Rivas

In some ways, Santa Ana is timeless. I used public transportation and walked throughout my time documenting this project. There are things you need be on the ground to really see. Even though the Latino community feels the pressure of gentrification, there are places where it continues to thrive. Today, Latinos make up 78 percent of Santa Ana.

This taco truck brought back memories of growing up there. You could walk out of your house and have a really delicious meal prepared by amazing people. During this visit, the city was considering a proposal to get rid of taco trucks. Why? In order to get rid of a certain group of people, you need to get rid of the things that come with them, the things that give them a sense of culture and identity. With taco trucks come not only really good meals, but also community.

Photo by Josué Rivas

Documenting this sanctuary city also represented a return to places that I knew in my youth. I would wait for my mother to get off work at her bridal shop on Fourth Street and get tacos down the street. Many of those businesses are no longer there. Instead there are upscale coffee shops and hipster clothing stores. This is a photo of older Santa Ana Fourth Street held up over what is there now. The bridal shop that used to be there closed down because the person who owned it couldn’t afford the rent anymore.

Photo by Josué Rivas

Alexis was in his first week working with Resilience OC. He had previously worked on the development of the sanctuary policy adopted in December. But Alex believes the city now needs to implement its policy in a way that is compassionate and creates a real and positive relationship between city government and its community, not just a symbolic one. Issues such as youth incarceration, gentrification, and lack of resources are pushing the immigrant community out of Santa Ana. Why be a sanctuary city if you’re going to displace the people who need it?

Josué Rivas

Josué Rivas is an indigenous documentary photographer. He spent much of 2016 documenting the Standing Rock resistance.