Sanctuary and Its Relevance to Illegal Immigration

For those familiar with my work, you have doubtless observed an absence of postings by yours truly for a while now.  Or perhaps I am flattering myself to think that anyone has even noticed.  Either way, I have not been idle.  One piece of major research I have been working on for the past six months just came out this week at Accuracy in Media: "CASA de Maryland: the Illegals' ACORN."

The report traces the creation of this subversive group from its beginnings during the mid-1980s.  While it focuses on an ostensibly local group, the report highlights important aspects of the left's overall strategy regarding illegal immigration. I urge you to read it.  Unfortunately, much of the report's original 22,000 words were edited out due to space constraints.  I will share portions of that with you now.

CASA de Maryland developed in response to a flood of illegals from Central America coming here in the 1980s.  Most were fleeing the civil war in El Salvador, or at least using that as an excuse.  Mountains of lies have been told regarding Central America's civil wars to justify the left's involvement, from protesting our military aid to aiding and abetting these illegals.  We are left to deal with their legacy, and the hundreds of thousands of still illegal aliens remaining here as a result.

Between 1979 and 1992, about 25 percent of El Salvador's population of 5 million fled the country.  Most came to the U.S.  Many settled in Los Angeles, but there was an established El Salvadoran community in D.C., which also provided a magnet.  Guatemalans who fled their civil war have a similar story and are also disproportionately represented in the Metro D.C. area.

Today there are about 1.1 million El Salvadorans living in the U.S.  An estimated 570,000 of these are "unauthorized" -- i.e., illegal -- according to the Department of Homeland Security.  An additional 217,000 people are here under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which grants legal status for 6 to 18 months to illegals facing violence or economic or natural disasters at home.  In other words, over 70 percent of all El Salvadorans in the U.S. are either illegal or were before receiving TPS status.  Furthermore, most of those under TPS were granted that status in the 1990s, when TPS law was enacted.  They have received endless extensions -- de facto amnesty.

It all started with the Sanctuary movement.

The Sanctuary Movement

Like much of what we get in the legacy press, this story is usually told from the left's perspective -- i.e., that U.S. government actions "caused" these massive migrations by providing military assistance to governments engaged in brutal "wars against their own people."  The left used that excuse to justify ignoring U.S. law in assisting illegals. Many believed that they were simply rectifying the "crimes" of their misguided government.

This worldview drove much of the Sanctuary movement.  Before 1980, refugee policy usually targeted people fleeing communism.  The Carter administration changed that, signing the 1980 Refugee Act, recognizing refugees from any country for humanitarian reasons.  Now the left got to help their asylum-seekers -- and, after 1980, stick the newly-elected conservative President Reagan in the eye in the offing.  But legal allowances per country were low: 20,000.  The Reagan administration also characterized most of the El Salvadorans as "economic migrants," which made them ineligible for refugee or asylum status.

The movement was started by Tucson, Arizona residents Jim Corbett, a Quaker, Harvard philosophy graduate, and goat farmer; John Fife, minister of Tucson's Southside Presbyterian church; and a few friends.  What began as an ad hoc effort to assist illegals crossing the border in the early 1980s grew into a nationwide network of "underground railways" ending in hundreds of "sanctuary" terminals before the end of the decade.  One source identified 399 discrete sites1.  Another claimed that there were as many as 3,0002.  Church groups were primarily Catholic, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian, but they also included Mennonites, Methodists, Baptists, and Jews.

Takoma Park, Maryland was one of the first towns to declare itself a "Sanctuary City" in 1985.  It reaffirmed that status with a town council vote in 2007.  Takoma Park Presbyterian Church was D.C.'s Underground Railroad terminus (there were ultimately six in Maryland)3.

 According to its current pastor, Reverend Mark Greiner, Takoma Park Presbyterian is now "an official Sanctuary church."  "But if it was in the early days," he added, "like many churches, the support was probably more informal."  Yes.  They didn't want to get arrested.

As the movement grew, it formed two main camps: Corbett's Tucson Ecumenical Council (TEC) and the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America (CRTF), based out of Chicago, Illinois.  The two groups clashed on movement goals.  TEC wanted to assist whoever needed help.  The CRTF was a Catholic organization promoting Liberation Theology -- the Catholics' own version of Marxism -- and was formed "with the explicit objective of challenging U.S. foreign policy."  The Catholics even went so far as to demand an ideological litmus test for refugees4:

Tensions over the political orientation of refugees spilled over into disagreement about the "religious" and "political" nature of the Sanctuary movement.  In a letter to the TECTF (Feb. 10, 1984), the CRTF steering committee articulated its understanding of the religious-political nature of the movement-one that not only underscored an explicit political orientation to Sanctuary but also echoed many of the statements made by Latin American liberation theologians abut the church's need to address the causes and structures of oppression.

It got so petty that the CRTF refused at one point to provide their list of sanctuary locations to TEC.  At its height, the movement vetted prospective refugees for their ideological pedigree through the Catholic networks in Mexico and Central America, before they even reached the border5.

How did this happen?  Much of Chicago's Catholic Church had already been captured by the left.  Radical organizer Saul Alinsky collaborated with local Catholics, who helped him found his Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).  Most Catholics would be shocked to discover that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, today's funding arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was started specifically to provide adequate funding for Alinsky's IAF.

Yet despite the ideological litmus tests and careful vetting, many El Salvadorans proved horribly disappointing to the leftist ideologues.  Most were interested only in finding a good job and a nice place to settle and weren't willing to go on consciousness-raising tours or have anything to do with the leftist agenda.  They had probably gotten more than enough of that back home.

But this drives home an important point.  The left claims that most of these people were refugees fleeing dire circumstances.  The Reagan administration resisted this narrative, instead referring to them as "economic migrants."  It seems that the El Salvadorans made his case for him.  But that is not something you will ever hear from the left.

Their narrative was that the big, bad old U.S. was beating up on poor little El Salvador, and that the problem would resolve itself if the U.S. government would just get out of Central and South America and mind its own business: "U.S. Out of (Name a Country)!" goes the chant.

But this has always been the left's complaint regarding U.S. foreign policy.  Today they are similarly protesting U.S. assistance to Colombia battling murderous, communist narco-terrorists.  It is a patently false narrative, shallow and self-serving.

Meanwhile, we are drowning in illegal immigration-created red ink.


1 Hilary Cunningham, God and Caesar at the Rio Grande: Sanctuary and the Politics of Religion, (University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p 64.

2 Renny Golden and Michael McConnell, Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad, (Orbis Books, 1987), p. 53.

3 Cunningham, op. cit.

4 Cunningham, p. 40.

5 Ibid.


For those familiar with my work, you have doubtless observed an absence of postings by yours truly for a while now.  Or perhaps I am flattering myself to think that anyone has even noticed.  Either way, I have not been idle.  One piece of major research I have been working on for the past six months just came out this week at Accuracy in Media: "CASA de Maryland: the Illegals' ACORN."

The report traces the creation of this subversive group from its beginnings during the mid-1980s.  While it focuses on an ostensibly local group, the report highlights important aspects of the left's overall strategy regarding illegal immigration. I urge you to read it.  Unfortunately, much of the report's original 22,000 words were edited out due to space constraints.  I will share portions of that with you now.

CASA de Maryland developed in response to a flood of illegals from Central America coming here in the 1980s.  Most were fleeing the civil war in El Salvador, or at least using that as an excuse.  Mountains of lies have been told regarding Central America's civil wars to justify the left's involvement, from protesting our military aid to aiding and abetting these illegals.  We are left to deal with their legacy, and the hundreds of thousands of still illegal aliens remaining here as a result.

Between 1979 and 1992, about 25 percent of El Salvador's population of 5 million fled the country.  Most came to the U.S.  Many settled in Los Angeles, but there was an established El Salvadoran community in D.C., which also provided a magnet.  Guatemalans who fled their civil war have a similar story and are also disproportionately represented in the Metro D.C. area.

Today there are about 1.1 million El Salvadorans living in the U.S.  An estimated 570,000 of these are "unauthorized" -- i.e., illegal -- according to the Department of Homeland Security.  An additional 217,000 people are here under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which grants legal status for 6 to 18 months to illegals facing violence or economic or natural disasters at home.  In other words, over 70 percent of all El Salvadorans in the U.S. are either illegal or were before receiving TPS status.  Furthermore, most of those under TPS were granted that status in the 1990s, when TPS law was enacted.  They have received endless extensions -- de facto amnesty.

It all started with the Sanctuary movement.

The Sanctuary Movement

Like much of what we get in the legacy press, this story is usually told from the left's perspective -- i.e., that U.S. government actions "caused" these massive migrations by providing military assistance to governments engaged in brutal "wars against their own people."  The left used that excuse to justify ignoring U.S. law in assisting illegals. Many believed that they were simply rectifying the "crimes" of their misguided government.

This worldview drove much of the Sanctuary movement.  Before 1980, refugee policy usually targeted people fleeing communism.  The Carter administration changed that, signing the 1980 Refugee Act, recognizing refugees from any country for humanitarian reasons.  Now the left got to help their asylum-seekers -- and, after 1980, stick the newly-elected conservative President Reagan in the eye in the offing.  But legal allowances per country were low: 20,000.  The Reagan administration also characterized most of the El Salvadorans as "economic migrants," which made them ineligible for refugee or asylum status.

The movement was started by Tucson, Arizona residents Jim Corbett, a Quaker, Harvard philosophy graduate, and goat farmer; John Fife, minister of Tucson's Southside Presbyterian church; and a few friends.  What began as an ad hoc effort to assist illegals crossing the border in the early 1980s grew into a nationwide network of "underground railways" ending in hundreds of "sanctuary" terminals before the end of the decade.  One source identified 399 discrete sites1.  Another claimed that there were as many as 3,0002.  Church groups were primarily Catholic, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, and Presbyterian, but they also included Mennonites, Methodists, Baptists, and Jews.

Takoma Park, Maryland was one of the first towns to declare itself a "Sanctuary City" in 1985.  It reaffirmed that status with a town council vote in 2007.  Takoma Park Presbyterian Church was D.C.'s Underground Railroad terminus (there were ultimately six in Maryland)3.

 According to its current pastor, Reverend Mark Greiner, Takoma Park Presbyterian is now "an official Sanctuary church."  "But if it was in the early days," he added, "like many churches, the support was probably more informal."  Yes.  They didn't want to get arrested.

As the movement grew, it formed two main camps: Corbett's Tucson Ecumenical Council (TEC) and the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America (CRTF), based out of Chicago, Illinois.  The two groups clashed on movement goals.  TEC wanted to assist whoever needed help.  The CRTF was a Catholic organization promoting Liberation Theology -- the Catholics' own version of Marxism -- and was formed "with the explicit objective of challenging U.S. foreign policy."  The Catholics even went so far as to demand an ideological litmus test for refugees4:

Tensions over the political orientation of refugees spilled over into disagreement about the "religious" and "political" nature of the Sanctuary movement.  In a letter to the TECTF (Feb. 10, 1984), the CRTF steering committee articulated its understanding of the religious-political nature of the movement-one that not only underscored an explicit political orientation to Sanctuary but also echoed many of the statements made by Latin American liberation theologians abut the church's need to address the causes and structures of oppression.

It got so petty that the CRTF refused at one point to provide their list of sanctuary locations to TEC.  At its height, the movement vetted prospective refugees for their ideological pedigree through the Catholic networks in Mexico and Central America, before they even reached the border5.

How did this happen?  Much of Chicago's Catholic Church had already been captured by the left.  Radical organizer Saul Alinsky collaborated with local Catholics, who helped him found his Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).  Most Catholics would be shocked to discover that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, today's funding arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was started specifically to provide adequate funding for Alinsky's IAF.

Yet despite the ideological litmus tests and careful vetting, many El Salvadorans proved horribly disappointing to the leftist ideologues.  Most were interested only in finding a good job and a nice place to settle and weren't willing to go on consciousness-raising tours or have anything to do with the leftist agenda.  They had probably gotten more than enough of that back home.

But this drives home an important point.  The left claims that most of these people were refugees fleeing dire circumstances.  The Reagan administration resisted this narrative, instead referring to them as "economic migrants."  It seems that the El Salvadorans made his case for him.  But that is not something you will ever hear from the left.

Their narrative was that the big, bad old U.S. was beating up on poor little El Salvador, and that the problem would resolve itself if the U.S. government would just get out of Central and South America and mind its own business: "U.S. Out of (Name a Country)!" goes the chant.

But this has always been the left's complaint regarding U.S. foreign policy.  Today they are similarly protesting U.S. assistance to Colombia battling murderous, communist narco-terrorists.  It is a patently false narrative, shallow and self-serving.

Meanwhile, we are drowning in illegal immigration-created red ink.


1 Hilary Cunningham, God and Caesar at the Rio Grande: Sanctuary and the Politics of Religion, (University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p 64.

2 Renny Golden and Michael McConnell, Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad, (Orbis Books, 1987), p. 53.

3 Cunningham, op. cit.

4 Cunningham, p. 40.

5 Ibid.


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