Listen: The New Sanctuary Movement, Promise or Peril?
The New Sanctuary Movement: Promise or Peril?
This spring, Professor Emerita of Spanish Aurora Camacho de Schmidt, Professor of Religion Mark Wallace, Associate Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey, and Peter Pedemonti, director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia, discussed the historical and theological roots of “sanctuary,” as well as explored the various methods to provide it in times of social and political insecurity.
The event was sponsored by Swarthmore's President’s Office, Department of Religion, the Interfaith Center, and the Intercultural Center, as well as the Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County and Partners in Ministry.
Mark Wallace: Hi, everyone. Hi, how's everyone doing? Good. Thank you for coming out tonight. This is a discussion about the President. Peter Pedemonti who is one of our speakers has a raid response phone so if his phone goes off in the middle of the discussion and he has to leave then that's what he will do. Just don't think he's not wanting to be here tonight or in opposition to what we're discussing but he will have to leave.
Sanctuary, what does that mean? Where does the idea come from? We use that term today in a charged and shifting political climate but where does the practice of sanctuary come from historically? What are some of the cultural and religious contexts for understanding that term? Sanctuary, peril or promise? Some people think of the Sanctuary Movement, welcoming strangers, opening one's homes and institutions to immigrants and undocumented people as law breaking. Other people see it as a moral responsibility. Sanctuary, peril or promise? What are some of the practices today that characterize the contemporary Sanctuary Movement? What about the practice of spiritual non-violence? What does that mean in the context of this movement today and historically?
Tonight, we have three presenters who will give brief presentations about sanctuary. Aurora Camacho de Schmidt is our first speaker. She is emeritus professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies here at Swarthmore College. Our second speaker is Lee Smithey who is a sociology professor at Swarthmore and also involved in the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the college. Peter Pedemonti is the director of the New Sanctuary Movement here in Philadelphia. My name is Mark Wallace, I'm a professor of religion and environmental studies here at the college.
Tonight, each of these presenters will give brief presentations. We've asked them also to engage in some cross talk amongst themselves as a panel for a few minutes and then quickly we'd like to move to each of you to engage the panel as the audience with questions, criticisms, observations that you have about the material that you've heard tonight. Thank you very much for being here.
Aurora Camacho de Schmidt.
Aurora Camacho : It's wonderful that you here. Thank you so much, it is very exciting to be talking about this subject matter and because I have so much to tell you I wrote my presentation so I will try to speak as loudly as Mark with a thunderous voice like his but also very fast so that I can tell you as much as I was able to put together very quickly. To give you a sense of what sanctuary has been like in this country. It really goes way back. The first sanctuaries in the United States opened for runaway slaves during the Underground Railroad days of the 19th century. They rested on the [in-valu-ability 00:03:57], I don't know if that's a word, of a holy place of worship. It could not be violated. Claiming like Reverend William Marsh in a sermon against the Fugitive Slave Act that when government drives out of its fear, encroaches on the conscience, and enjoys moral wrong then His word lifts its voice like a trumpet in unison with an outraged conscience and warns us that we ought to obey God rather than men.
In the 20th century many temples were converted into sanctuaries in response to the need to protect the men who refused to go to war in Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 70s. The city of Berkeley became a sanctuary city and there were more than 20 sanctuary churches in the Bay Area. In San Francisco and Boston the police entered churches and arrested draft resistors using tear gas in what looked like one more fervent different riot of the ones we saw on television in the 60s all the time. Many resistors found their way to Canada or remained under protection. The second wave of sanctuaries claimed the right to practice its faith under the protection of the First Amendment of the Constitution during its legal defense. The actors in both movements were brought before justice.
The following decade brought to us yet another war or set of wars in Central America, this time as the last chapter of the anti-Communist crusade of the United States. The refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala that the war produced in the early 80s created an extraordinary response on the part of US citizens in a carefully organized web of protection for the immigrants. In a few years, close to 1 million Central Americans entered the United States by crossing the Mexico-US border without authorization. They were fleeing unimaginable levels of violence. Indeed, they were facing the destruction of their means of livelihood. Losing friends and relatives to disappearance, torture, assassination, or forced conscription into the army or the guerrilla forces. Some historical events, in this country and abroad, prepared some people for the unprecedented exodus they would soon witness or read about.
In March 1980 the Bishop of San Salvador, Óscar Arnulfo Romero, was assassinated by celebrating mass in the chapel of the small hospital where he made his home. He had forcefully denounced the violence of the Armed Forces from the pulpit and had asked President Carter not to send any more military aid to his country. The day before he was killed he had asked soldiers to disobey orders. He's now in the process of being canonized as a saint. The 37th anniversary of his death is the day after tomorrow, next Friday.
In December, of the same year, four religious women from the United States were raped, assassinated, and left dead on the road between the airport and San Salvador, enough to shake up the media and the State Department. Many of you must remember this terrible news. Bishop Samuel Ruiz from Chiapas, Mexico came to the First United Methodist Church in Germantown in Philadelphia and to many other churches in the city looking for money for his tent city of Guatemalan indigenous refugees who had walked over the mountains and into Mexico, into his archdiocese without any resources whatsoever, fleeing the war. I knew him closely because I was his translator. Some of what I know here is because I was interpreting for these people.
Rigoberta Menchú, you all probably know who Rigoberta Menchú is, the indigenous woman who won the peace Nobel Prize in 1992. She was also on speaking tours before she was so famous talking about what had happened to her own family, to her own father who had been burned alive in the Spanish Embassy where he had taken refuge, fleeing persecution. Through her vigorous testimonies we learned about the indigenous victims of repression who would soon be forced to leave their ancestral lands in order to survive.
In the United States, with a big push from Senator. Edward Kennedy, a historic piece of legislation had been passed. The Refugee Act of 1980, which brought US law into compliance with the United Nations 1967 protocol. The United States had signed that protocol but its laws were very far from complying with it. In 1990, it happened and this law framed the rights of asylum-seekers who crossed the border into this country without having been declared refugees by any agency abroad. It also recognized the resettlement system, and reorganized the resettlement system, and social services for people fleeing strife. More importantly, the new life fortified the principle of [inaudible 00:09:45] or no forcible return of asylumees. The United States in this law promises never to return anybody to danger.
This is the context but The Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, like the New Sanctuary Movement today, is a response not only to the historical circumstances but to real people. Both are the result of face-to-face encounters with immigrants. I want you to look at the border and to look at Nogales in the North and Nogales in the South. Nogales means Walnut Groves, this is the Mexico-US border. The first sanctuary had to happen in the border, a geographical crack. Just as the trauma of mass expulsion is a historical crack, a partition as something that is like a cognitive dissonance except that it is a lived experience out of which we can make no sense. The border home to communities used to Mexican crossers in their way to fields and later to urban centers. The Mexico US border, una herida abierta, the Mexican writer, Carlos Fuentes calls it "an open wound, a result of war. Porous when it was convenient, very open, full of holes so that people could come but guarded and militarized when it ceased to be the access to a fantastic, large labor reserve for a Southwestern agriculture that was growing very rapidly."
In Nogales on the Mexican side the Sanctuary Movement began at The Sanctuario Revolución de Guadalupe, The Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe staffed by Father Ramón Quiñones well known to Salvadoran immigrants from the very beginning. They could spend a night or two in his church, eat a hot meal, rest, start [inaudible 00:12:01] again. At the same time, Quaker friends Jim Corbett and Jim Dudley from Tucson were accustomed to crossing the border into Mexico because they organized program for young people there. They began to realize that many, many of the people they saw did not look like the well-known Mexican border crossers they were used to.
When they saw how many of them were being seized by the Border Patrol they decided to offer rides to some of them, avoiding the checkpoints. Many of them ended up living in Jim's house for a while until his wife, Pat, said, "Excuse me? I used to have a bathroom here." Others continued their trip in order to reach Los Angeles. The minister of the Presbyterian Church in Tucson, John Fife, had known Corbett because of his interest in bailing out detained Central Americans who had expressed their fear of persecution if returned to their countries. They had been put in detention, they needed now to be bailed out so these people, first of all, were raising money like crazy so that they could pay bail. Fife and Corbett collaborated in raising money for bail and Fife began to go into northern Mexico, very soon, to also transport refugees from Nogales to Douglas, to Tucson, to Phoenix, and then to California some of the time.
After the trials, I just wanted to give you a sense of who John Fife from Arizona is. John is actually a Pennsylvanian, from Pittsburgh. He had worked with the Seed of Rights Movement, he had marched in Alabama, and he had been involved in social change from the very beginning. After the trials when he was interviewed by the press and he was asked, "Why did you do it," this is what he answered. "We had no choice, none of us ever had a choice. Our only choice was whether we wanted to sell our souls. We had to help people."
Jim Corbett, the Quaker, had studied philosophy at Harvard and he was a rancher but he understood exactly what he was doing in a very profoundly theological way. Undocumented refugees, and outlawed Christians, and Jews are together forming a New Exodus community that takes seriously a God who acts in history. They began to realize then that they had to do something because they were transporting people and they were exposing themselves to being detained by the Border Patrol. John Fife remembered the sanctuary biblical tradition, consulted with Corbett, proposed to the equivalent of a Parish Council, that's what it would be in the Catholic Church, what to do, and very soon there was a process in his community trying to decide how they were going to declare sanctuary. This was now 1981 and it was Thanksgiving of that year.
Meanwhile, they started a group to familiarize themselves with the reasons why people were leaving. It was a study group about the war in Central America and the Reagan policy that was fueling that war with extraordinary amounts of money especially in El Salvador. After this process, the South side Presbyterian Church, a very modest, little, wooden building, declared sanctuary and it did so in the second anniversary of Óscar Romero's assassination, on 24 March 1982. In addition to declaring the sanctuary with all the fanfare, music, the Central American refugees wearing bandannas so that they could face the press without being recognized, John Fife sent a letter to Attorney General William French Smith in which he said, "We believe that justice and mercy require that people of conscience actively assert our God given right to aid anyone fleeing from persecution and murder." He added, "We believe that the administration of the law is immoral and illegal. You are the ones who are committing the illegality, not us in the Sanctuary Movement," he said.
Meanwhile, the same process was taking place in California with the same churches that had been involved in the sanctuary for draft resistors. A made woman, Eileen [inaudible 00:17:18], a Catholic, worked for Catholic charities and the Irish priest [Cogh-lan 00:17:25] Moriarty from San Jose were among the movers and so was Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco who had attended the funeral of Bishop Romero. Once the churches began sanctuaries then the Underground Railroad began in earnest and many more churches everywhere in the United States, 40 states were involved in the Sanctuary Movement and 70,000 people, at its end, had been somehow involved with it. It grew so fast. It was just an amazing fire that was on the Prairie taking everything in its wake.
The Underground Railroad required a lot of people, well trained, very ready to face the possibility of being stopped, and arrested, and detained, and charged but even so by the end of the 1985 there were already 270 sanctuaries functioning in the country. If you can imagine, each one of those had three or four and sometimes five or more people then there were a lot of Central American people who either had the hope of being taken care of by a community of faith or were actually protected by it. In addition to this, the Sanctuary Movement, just like the New Sanctuary Movement, was helping people have legal representation. However, they were not very successful.
In 1984, according to the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, while 78% of Russian applicants were granted asylum only 2% of Guatemalans and 3% of Salvadorans. In January 1985 in Tucson sanctuary workers organized the Inter-American Symposium on Sanctuary. Nobel prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel gave the introduction in which he declared, "No human being is illegal." Something that we have on our T-shirts, and our banners, and in our hearts, 'No ... Is Illegal.' He knew that, he knew that deeply.
Very early in the development of the Tucson sanctuaries paid Immigration and Naturalization Service informants infiltrated the movement as part of a crackdown called Operation Sojourner. Posing as sanctuary workers there were people in California, in Tucson but most of all, for some reason, in Texas. They were pretending to be the workers so that they would have access to information, routes. Yet the kind of very abrasive way of arresting people, which had happened with the draft resistors, did not happen to the Sanctuary Movement of Central American refugees. Instead, once the government had enough information, 66 Central American refugees were detained, and 16 people in Tucson were arrested, and charged, and two sanctuary workers in Texas, only two, after they had done all that incredible amount of work for a year and a half gathering information. The government spends a lot of money very uselessly.
I want to talk a little bit about Philadelphia and very fast because I know my time is up. Several sanctuaries opened early in 1984. The First United Methodist Church in Germantown [inaudible 00:21:42] received a Guatemalan family of three. [inaudible 00:21:46] a carpenter trade unionist in his country who had been detained and tortured. He cannot hear on his left ear because of that torture. He had to flee with Gabriella, his wife, and Lucy, a three year old daughter. They arrived in Tucson and they were railroaded all the way to Germantown. They were also detained under Operation Sojourner at the same time as sanctuary workers in other parts of the country but they were released.
In 1986, he received political asylum as one of the 2% that was earning that. In Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia, Ernesto and Linda Fuentes Salvadoran union organizers were housed and after the Peace Accords were signed in 1992 they went back home with their three children, US-born, the three of them and they have prospered in their own country. Chesapeake friends meeting received a woman who was politically active in El Salvador. She gave herself the sanctuary name of Paz, lovely person, while her mother was named Libertad and taken care of by Germantown Friends Meeting. There was a local synagogue that also had a family. Sonya and Ruth Ramos lived in sanctuary in Media Friends Meeting, some of you may remember them very well. For them, to have their children smuggled into the country so that they could be rejoined with their parents was a terrible ordeal.
Speaker 3: They lived in Media eventually but it was Swarthmore Meeting that they were sanctuaried in.
Aurora Camacho : Thank you for correcting me.
Speaker 3: Sorry but that is-
Aurora Camacho : That is very important to know, thank you so much. We have to get your name for a good footnote here. In 1987, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling on a Nicaraguan asylum case. Nicaraguans were fleeing, what was known as, a Marxist country at that time, the Nicaraguan Revolution having triumphed in 1979. Nicaraguans could be accepted as refugees very easily but this asylum petition was rejected and so the woman went to the Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court issued a ruling on her case but also, in siding with her, the Court referred to the Refugee Act of 1980 and criticized the INS, which, "for years of seemingly purposeful blindness to the clear meaning of the law." That meant that very soon the INS had to re-open 150,000 petitions for asylum. The American Baptist Church with the Center for Constitutional of Rights and the National Lawyers Guild brought suit against the United States on the half of 80 churches seeking to stop the arrest of sanctuary workers and deportation of Salvadorans and Guatemalans. In a 1990 settlement ... seem to have been applied in a discriminatory way and therefore they came to a settlement, which said there will be a temporary reprieve of the deportations for Salvadorans for the time being.
I want to quickly then move to what we have learned and what we have gained. A truly ecumenical movement came to life in the United States. The large bibliography on the Sanctuary Movement attests to its moral impact and the re-definition of the role of religious faith in public. Its effectiveness can be measured in the adoption of a new law to stop the deportation of Salvadorans and Guatemalans. The Letelier-Moffitt Award in Human Rights was given to the Sanctuary Movement in 1984. A best-selling novel by Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Tree, published in 1988 looks closely at the movement in the city of Tucson surrounded by the desert. Most of the participating churches and synagogues reported a renewal of their faith and communities. This was so visible for us who were there. Latin American theology of liberation became an important alternative way of looking at the relationship between faith and the work for justice.
The Sanctuary Movement taught us the importance of the small, the simple, and the local. It was not the result of planning and it did not rely on pre-established budgets, not even goals and strategies but it was deeply grounded in the concrete reality of each community and it was an organic movement. I'm going to skip this quotation but I want you to see, again, [Spanish 00:27:02] in that introduction, the sanctuary is often something very small. Not a grandiose gesture but a small gesture toward [all-e-gating 00:27:08] human suffering and preventing humiliation. The sanctuary is a human being, sanctuary is a dream. That is why you are here and that is why I am here. We are here because of one another, that was sanctuary for him.
Next, the movement very likely contributed to the end of the war in El Salvador and Guatemala and to the spread of public awareness of the role of the Reagan administration in provoking and sustaining it. Enforcement was applicable but it did not enter a place of worship with a display of weaponry like police did in 1969 in Boston. It instead chose a cunning route to make an example of the leaders who had launched the movement and their closest collaborators. In what was in effect an always universal pardon the courts showed more understanding of the bind sanctuary workers were in than the Immigration and Naturalization Service ever did.
In spite of the efforts to raise the disability of Central American refugees the protagonists of the Sanctuary Movement in the media were more the hosts than the guests. This can be explained by the desire to protect the identity of some refugees and by the unwitting media exposure of hosts as lawbreakers. The Sanctuary Movement was largely a white phenomenon, the caravans that accompanied refugees to their sanctuaries across the country included African-Americans and Reverend Jesse Jackson offered public support to the movement but it's grassroots operation was not racially diverse at all. These are the challenges that we now have before us.
For me, the most important contribution of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s was its audacious attempt to name that crack in history, that thing that takes our breath away, what is happening? To articulate its horror, point to the disproportion of power between the US government and Salvadoran and Guatemalan people who fled their countries because of war and were met by an even more well-equipped paramilitary force in the form of the Border Patrol. At its best, sanctuary showed the blatant incapacity of those in power to apply the law equitably and to understand what Latin Americans call, [Spanish 00:29:36] or a historical confluence of events that press some people against the wall completely.
Hannah Arendt, another survivor of one of the most astonishing historical events of modernity perhaps an irrevocable crack in time, provides us with some particularly valuable intellectual tools to help us link the massive flight of refugees from Central America in the 1980s to the plight of ... people and therefore, in principle, deportable human beings. Citizenship is for Arendt the right to have rights and here neither refugees of the 80s nor immigrants of the second decade of the 21st century qualify. They don't have the right to have rights.
Alicia Schmidt Camacho, our daughter, who researches this kind of thing calls this state one of minimal subjectivity. Uruguayan essayist and poet Eduardo Galeano spoke of people in that situation as the nothings, the nobodies, los nadies, los nadas. Even when they are really agents of history, transformers of their reality. Human rights are not, for Arendt, an abstraction. They are instead defined, contested, and redefined in what she calls, "the public sphere," that is to say the give-and-take of an open dialogue in which all human beings participate. In 'The Origins of Totalitarianism' she tells us that the deadly danger to any globalization is not going to come from without but from within, and that is to say people can fall into that danger very easily without having ever to leave the order of their own construction of their own country.
This is what I had to say and here are my colleagues to complete this presentation.
Lee Smithey: Good evening. As Mark mentioned, my name is Lee Smithey and I teach in the Peace and Conflict Studies program here and also in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Probably among the people here tonight I'm probably the person with the least expertise but I thought that if I agreed to do this I would get a front row seat, which happened. I knew Aurora was speaking so any time I can do anything with Aurora the answer is, 'yes.'
Aurora Camacho : Thank you.
Lee Smithey: You're very welcome. I think maybe the other reason ... By the way, I was asked to speak for about five minutes and I think what I'm actually going to do is simply raise some questions that are on my mind that I may not even have the answer to myself.
As part of the larger conversation that I think we're going to move into maybe some folks will have some of the same questions or will take me up on some of these questions. I think the other reason that maybe I'm up here is because I had the privilege of working with a group of students and faculty here at Swarthmore in trying to develop our own sanctuary campus status, which was really led by the efforts of our students who staged a walkout toward the end of last semester as part of a national day of walkouts across the United States protesting the Trump administration's increasingly draconian policies around immigration. The community really came together on that day of walkout, and faculty got organized, and ended up passing a faculty resolution column for sanctuary campus status that the administration and the board actually, and I think in some very courageous ways, passed their own policies on sanctuary campus.
Peter and I were chatting beforehand since I think there's kind of a religious subtext to this conversation tonight as well. I attend Germantown Mennonite Church, which is one of the congregations that's part of the New Sanctuary Movement here in Philadelphia. I also think that there are a lot of really beautiful possibilities in the idea of sanctuary especially in an age of Trump and that compels me.
One of the things that I've come to learn, just in the past few months, about sanctuary is that there's no real basis in law for sanctuary in the United States. With warrants immigration officials ... enter our institutions and our places of worship and, I think, it's important that we think about what exactly we mean by sanctuary, that we don't tried over claim what we mean by sanctuary. Yet I also want to say that I think there are some really powerful, nonviolent tools and possibilities here because authority and legitimacy doesn't only come from law. It comes from other sources like cultural sources, like some of our religious traditions. I think one of the questions before us is how we can think creatively about how to cultivate those sources of legitimacy, that there's some work to do around that. I think we have some expectations that religious traditions ... in our toolbox, so to speak, we can reach an and bring out some of those religious traditions because we have it in our mind, even if it's not formally codified in law that there's a general respect for various religious traditions here.
I'm wondering if there's other ways that we can cultivate sacred spaces out of other traditions as well? Maybe the learning community here at Swarthmore College, what would that look like? How would we frame our own community and a sacredness of our mission here at the college that might provide some extra legitimacy and authority for our sanctuary efforts here on campus? Some Quaker friends have explained to me, and I'm happy to be corrected here by any of the Quakers in the room but, that there's interesting questions around sanctuary and friends because meetinghouses are not really sacred spaces in the sense that they contain The Divine or something like that. Of course, The Divine exists within each of us. During the Sanctuary Movement that some local Quaker congregations essentially decided we are the sanctuary, we the people are the sanctuary, and as we gather around those who need sanctuary we bring that power with us.
I think that one of the ... it's so hard to say that the Trump administration has given us any gifts. Maybe it might be said that one of the gifts that the Trump administration has given us is an imperative. I think we can see more clearly now privilege and risk in ways that we couldn't ... many of us and I'm talking about myself here, I suppose, found it more difficult to see privilege and risk in our society before the Trump administration began its full on assault of so many people at risk. One class or category, that we happen to be talking about tonight, immigrants.
One of the things that from the perspective of someone who studies nonviolent resistance and nonviolent action is asking questions about how we can share privilege, and this may come up in some of Peter's comments or conversation around the New Sanctuary Movement but, how people in positions of privilege and relative safety have a responsibility to use that for our neighbors who are very clearly at risk. They're not it new risk but they seem to be in increasingly amplified risk. The reason I said that it's not new risk, for example, for our undocumented neighbors there are other risks that are not new as well but that we should recognize.
I wanted to throw into the conversation one of the things that I've been hearing from friends in the black community is, "You know? We really appreciate this new attention or renewed attention to privilege and risk in our communities but where was sanctuary around stop and frisk or the school to prison pipeline, and a lot of systematic risks that have been around for a long time?" I think, that simply gives us an opportunity to think about how can we extend the concept of sanctuary. I think that may be a really beautiful opportunity before us and one that we should consider.
I think I'm running out of time so I'm just going to ... there was one other thing I wanted to say, which was to say one of the things that I'm interested in and, again, as someone who studies nonviolent civil resistance is how we can target the systems of incarceration ... to build nonviolent campaigns to take on systems of incarceration so the prison pipeline that runs through communities of color? Also, the immigration detention industry as well. It makes me think of my friend Anton Flores and the Alterna community in Georgia, which for a number of years had been trying to shut down the Stewart Detention Center, which is a private run center with its headquarters, I think, in Nashville, Tennessee. It's a private corporate foundation for a system that is open to corruption and one that, I think, we may be able to build non-violent campaigns about.
Finally, i just think that we need to think about the pace and the speed at which we're able to develop campaigns and responses to the Trump administration's policies. It may force us to move at a pace that we're not quite used to but is necessary nonetheless. Those are some of my questions and concerns, and I'm happy to be here with you and with this panel, and I look forward to the conversation. Thanks.
Peter Pedemonti: Good evening everyone. Again, I'm Peter. I work with the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia and it's a real pleasure to be here with all of you. A brief introduction, we're an interfaith immigrant justice organization. We work with 22 congregations in the Philadelphia area. Half of those are immigrant congregations, both Latino and Indonesian, and the other half are allies. Really we're organizing people to come together to work for a more welcoming and just city, and state, and country.
The way we do that is three programs. One is leadership development, two is accompaniment where we pair up congregations with families facing deportation, and then we work on grassroots campaigns to either fight anti-immigrant laws or work for more laws that are in line with our values to welcome a stranger and love our neighbor, and really work to put those values into practice both in the laws in the country and also how we operate as an organization. For one piece, that's one core value is that the affected community should be leading the fight. Throughout our organization it's all half and half so the board, staff, and congregation is at least 50% immigrant led. We also set up structures for that, so making sure that our immigrant members pick the campaigns we work on and make up the committees that aside the strategy and tactics of how we operate those. Then we have spaces where the outer members come in to learn and support to those strategies.
I think in this particular time, which is such a dark time, such a hate filled and racist time I think the faith community has a particular call, and a particular responsibility right now to step up and really lift up, I think, the light of our faith on a higher level. Lifting up those values of love, of compassion, of radical inclusion. I think, physical sanctuary's one way of doing that. I think there are many strong points of sanctuary and also some pitfalls. The things I love about physical sanctuary, when we did it two years ago, was that it's really powerful. It's civil disobedience that actually breaks the law that's unjust.
In a time when so often we are accustomed to much safer civil disobedience. Blocking traffic or trespassing to symbolically protest but this, I think, actually challenges the unjust immigration laws. What I love is it plays out socio-drama on a big level. It takes the conflict, the violence that's happening every day in Philadelphia, and across the state, and country and lifts it up for everybody to see. The violence that ICE and the government are doing on immigrant families every day. I think it doesn't just protest it also models what we want. I remember when [Ang-ela 00:45:34] entered sanctuary with her family, opening the doors of the church and then walking in was such a powerful ... not just protesting what we didn't want but modeling what we wanted from the country, to open our doors, open our borders.
I also think there are a lot of challenges to it or dangers. I think, one it's very easy, we've seen this many times, to slip into paternalism where white people feel like they're protecting somebody or saving them. I think there's also a danger of doing it without connecting to a campaign. I see sanctuary as a tactic in a broader campaign. When Angela went into sanctuary, it was to stop her deportation, but it was also to put pressure on President Obama to pass DAPA. I think, remembering that part of its power is in affecting policy.
I think the other pieces, that isolation and oppression are very real. We have not seen, in the last 10 years, ICE enter into a place of worship but we have seen them ignore people. People stay in sanctuary in one building for a year, a year and a half and really struggle with isolation and depression. What we've heard is people feel like they're in house arrest. With Angela, she was surrounded by her family, she was in her community, she was heavily engaged in her campaign, she was leading her campaign with her family. As we engage in this those are all things we really need to think about.
I think the other piece with us is that ... I think the other danger is that we could decide we want to do sanctuary and spend months prepping for it, get everything ready, and then nobody comes. Just so you know, all the calls we've been getting around sanctuary have been from allies, and we haven't gotten a call yet from an immigrant member who is waiting, who wants to take sanctuary. Really because people want to stay in their homes. I think what the opportunity there though is, because I think it's exciting, and I think it's an important conversation to have as a faith community, about what our faith is calling us to do. Again, in that time there's also a lot of really concrete things that we can be doing today that are immediate needs from our immigrant members.
Like, for example, one piece we do is accompaniment and, I think, what Aurora was sharing too is that the Sanctuary Movement began with relationships and with forming those relationships. Accompaniment is where a congregation is paired up with a family facing deportation, a mutual relationship. We pair people with trustworthy lawyers but also share in services together, share in meals, and then we go to court with people. Either to immigration or sometimes to criminal court with five, 10 people in the goal of that is to really get the back of someone when they go, surround them with community. It's also to make sure that the judge and the courts know we're watching them.
I'm not claiming we walk in and they say, "Oh okay, here's your papers," but we have gotten a lot of reactions. Like we went in once with a group from a synagogue and the immigration court rooms aren't very big. We walked in with one member to say, we're from [Isch-ome 00:49:17] Shalom and we're here accompanying so and so. The prosecutor got really agitated and she said,"You know? We're not the Nazis here, we're not gonna to just like drag him away." After the shock of her choice of words with a group from a synagogue, also realized though it was having some impact. I also think there is something about having the visual representation of God in those places of power, the places that have such power to destroy family. Then I think for people who are not affected it's a really important transformational moment or education. I know I've learned, some of my best education has been sitting in immigration court ... these systems work.
One of the other pieces we do, one of our campaigns right now is called 'Sanctuary in the Streets', and it's a raid response. We actually started this back a year ago when President Obama announced that they were going to do targeted raids on Central American refugees. We were really struggling with how to we fight these raids? Thinking about physical sanctuary but if ICE shows up at someone's house we can't get them to a congregation to take sanctuary. It was this process of talking with immigrant members, of prayer, and in action that we came up with everyone always says that the church is actually the people not the building so why can't we just bring the church to them, or the synagogue to them, or the mosque to them?
We started forming ... actually, right around the time that we were thinking this we got a call, there was three of us in the office and got a call that Maria one of our organizers, her cousin's friend, ICe had come to their house. We grabbed a bullhorn, a banner, and a couple posters or signs and jumped in a car and headed down. We weren't really sure what we were going to do when we got there but when we got there we circled the block a couple times, and I think ICE had already left, but we went up and talked to the woman. ICE had waited outside of the door until the man left and when he left the house they arrested him, took his keys and reentered the apartment building, and then found the apartment, and were looking for her. She was hiding underneath her bed with her three-month-old, while they were looking for her, and then they left.
When we were talking with her, talking about ways to support her ... sorry, from that really was born this idea of creating human people to respond while ICE is there. For us, what we have is we have a raid phone, so we have one for Spanish speakers and Indonesian speakers. Myself and Maria staff this 24/7, so we're on call. The idea is if ICE comes to someone's door they call the phone and then we send out our members who are trained to the house to have an interfaith service. There's a memo within ICE that says they should not conduct enforcement in central locations like congregations, or schools, or hospitals. We are saying this is holy space, this is a place of worship and you should not do enforcement here. I don't know if they'll listen to that, but I think what it also does is sets up a very clear violation of the values, of our deepest values as people.
Secondly, it sets a container for how we want people showing up. We want people showing up in prayer, and love, and compassion, really believing that if we want Trump and ICE to set policies based on love and inclusion then we need to act that way. When we show up it's going to be holding that and so we really train people to not only be there to disrupt what ICE is doing but also to extend that love and compassion to them, to see their humanity, to invite them to pray. Last May, we had about 65 people signed up, ready to go, and then after Trump got elected ... we had a Clinton strategy and a Trump strategy so the morning after election we very sadly rolled out the Trump strategy. One of those was escalating 'Sanctuary in the Streets' to like 1000 people. When we did that we were laughing like, "Yeah right, 1000 people," and we hit that within two weeks. In Philly people had signed up. Now, we've trained about 700 people to go.
The goals are really to be there with the family. Two, is to shine a light on what ICE is doing. People need to know that the impact of all this rhetoric, and these at consecutive orders is that they're driving people out of their homes at 6 AM and separating families. Then three is to publicly push back on ICE and the Trump administration, to let them know that if they come into our neighborhoods and take away our friends, our families, and our neighbors as people of faith we cannot stand by and let that happen, and we are going to be there. We are going to prayerfully and peacefully disrupt that. Most of the people will be doing a prayer service, there'll be a smaller group who we're training to risk arrest and either that's circling the house and refusing to move or circling ... vehicle.
We're an interfaith organization, I'm personally Catholic and as we're in Lent right now I've been thinking a lot about the women disciples, and the women who showed up when Jesus was carrying his cross, was tried and carrying his cross, and crucified. All the men left and fled. It was the women who stuck around, it was the women who when he was carrying his cross and came out in front of the crowd. I'm not the theologian here but I'm assuming there was great risk of being associated with Jesus who was a convicted criminal and maybe the would also face crucifixion. They did so anyway. I've been trying to learn, and model, and take those lessons from them a out how in this moment of such heightened persecution, how do we show up? How do we move closer?
I think a lot of that is about risk and sacrifice asking, Part of 'Sanctuary in the Streets' is asking, what are we willing to risk and sacrifice? Sorry, in our trainings I talk about this is not about who's the most hard-core, who's the most hard-core activist. It's about a spiritual journey about if we get a text, and we're in an important meeting or if I get a text about a raid at 6 o'clock or 5 o'clock in the morning what are we going to do?
I think the important part is these are important to lead up to sanctuary because also for a congregation to go from just starting to get involved to giving physical sanctuary I feel like sometimes is going from 0 to 100 where there's a lot of steps in between that are very important. Also, help build a bigger picture. At least, in New Sanctuary what we're always working to do is one, change immediate policy but then also shift the balance of power. That is the slow day-to-day work of organizing, of talking to people, and of building a bigger community. I think also how do we build those relationships in mutuality? We work mostly in Philadelphia but have been also, I think, especially since the election there's been a lot of congregations entrusted outside the city as well. I think one of the first key steps is to start having conversations with other congregations, so we have a mix of allied immigrant congregations together and then seeing what the immigrant community needs in the area to then start our thing. Thank you.
Mark Wallace: Good.