The latest issue of The Christian Century magazine includes an interview with Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and leader in the sanctuary movement. This is a good starting point for understanding both the history and the present focus of the sanctuary movement. Salvatierra offers a measured, reasonable, nuanced, and faithful vision of a distinctively Christian response to the contemporary debate over immigration policies and practices. Here is an excerpt:
Most people know that our immigration system is ineffective. If you take a step closer to it, you find out that it is illogical, and if you take another step closer, you find out that it is inhumane. Many of us are not looking for open borders; we believe that a country has the right to an immigration system. But we want an immigration system that is effective, logical, fair, and humane, and ours is none of the above. It is a crazy patchwork of laws, many of which break apart families and penalize the kinds of people we want in our country.
For example, since 1995 the United States has allowed a total of 5,000 visas per year for unskilled workers. But for years this country has imported most of its agricultural workers. More than 80 percent of the agricultural workers are currently immigrants. But only 5,000 are allowed to come legally — plus there is a guest worker program that covers about 200,000 people. We need far more workers than that. As the Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has pointed out, we say, “Come, we need your labor” on the one hand, “but we are not going to give you any status” on the other.
As a result of these aspects of the system, about 12 million people are working in the shadows. Ninety percent of undocumented men are working. They are here because the country needs their labor. They’ve been here for decades and have kids who are citizens. In 1995, the United States decided that children could only petition for citizenship for their parents in extreme and unusual circumstances. So there are many families in which the parents are working but undocumented.