The reason sanctuary churches go public with immigrant stories

March 2017

Susan Bibler Coutin, professor of criminology, law and society and anthropology, discussed the history of the sanctuary church movement with NPR's Code Switch. Churches today are responding to President Trump's immigration crackdown by shielding immigrants who face deportation, and allowing them take sanctuary at church, where immigration agents usually don't arrest them. Churches did the same thing in the 1980s, when Central Americans fleeing war in their home countries came to the U.S. -- and faced potential deportation. Churches went public with those stories, and led a movement that ended up changing culture and policy.

From NPR:

“I think one goal of the movement was really bringing middle-class Americans in touch with Central Americans who had suffered tremendous adversity and persecution and oppression in their country. There was a desire to hear and publicize those stories for knowledge and understanding, which is really important but also could be perhaps uncomfortable for the Central Americans in some cases.”

Coutine says many, many Central Americans did want to share their stories, but not all of them. Some people she spoke with resented having to become public figures. The thing is for churches, going public is super important. Many feel it’s the only way to protect themselves from accusations that they’re harboring criminals. That was true then and it’s true now.

Listen to the story.