In the 1980s, Rev. John Fife and his congregation at Southside Presbyterian Church began to help Central American migrants fleeing persecution from US backed dictatorships. Their efforts would mark the beginning of a new — and controversial — social movement … Continue reading →
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Mrs ninety, nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars, in July nineteen. Eighty, a group of Salvador migrants crossed the border from Mexico into Arizona they want. Over an isolated mountain range and halfway across a wide desert valley. There were more two dozen of them. People who but behind lives and jobs to come to the United States. They hired some guides to lead them on the journey supporting our story. This week is Delaney Hall and those guys had brought them to a largely uninhabited printed, the border It was a vast, empty and fatally hot stretch of the Sahara Desert, the temperature, the next they got up to around two hundred and twelve hundred fifteen degrees out there was deadly, this is John Fife. These material Minister from Tucson, which is a couple of them where's from where the migrants crossed They were in the middle of the most desolate and
and deadly area of the desert, and I think, out of the group, twenty six twelve of them die the first day. The survivors were eventually found, delirious and suffering from intense dehydration and heat stroke. Some of them had stripped off their clothes border. Patrol agents brought them We'll hospital in Tucson, which is where Reverend John Fife met and they are some of us who were pastors to provide some pastoral care for the survivors who were traumatized beyond understanding They began to tell me why they fled El Salvador at that point, five had lived into sign for more than ten years, leading a small congregation at a church called South Side Presbyterian. He didn't know much. Central America or what was going on in countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador around,
this time not only ignorant, but I couldn't have put El Salvador on a map. I knew it was somewhere between Mexico and Panama, but that was the extent of my knowledge so, so I had a lot to learn a lot of catching up to do El Salvador are caught in a web of terror, trapped between the military forces of the iranian government and the guerrilla forces of the ethical and no one is in a civil war, El Salvador. Civil war had been decades in the making since the early nineteen hundred the country had been ruled by a series of oligarchs and corrupt military leaders, They maintain control by repressing Lord segments of the rural population in the late night keen, seventies and early nineteen eighties. A number of left wing guerrilla groups began to grow in power and influence. The military responded by train to crush this resistance. Death squads targeted use,
leaders, community, organizers and other people they suspected of sympathising with the guerrillas that included priests and nuns lots of civilians were caught in the middle of this violence. Thousands of people were disappeared, murdered displaced. Today, the salvadoran people continue to suffer as a persistent pattern of brutal human rights violations. Rips the nation and El Salvador wasn't the only country where this was happening, similar conflict, were unfolding in Nicaragua in Guatemala, where moratorium. Governments were facing pressure from leftwing rebels. This is the highest Reverend John five started to learn about when he met. The salvadoran migrants, who nearly died in the desert near Tucson. What basically. They were telling me why they fled El Salvador about threats from death squads killings of members of their family or close friends. That sort of thing and and the reason why they they'd had to flee
he didn't know. It then, but Reverend five was witnessing the beginning of something big hundreds of thanks of central Americans were trying to get away from these dangerous and bloody civil wars were fleeing their countries, making there they threw Mexico and crossing into the United States. So a major I gratian of refugees occurred along this border during that ten year period, beginning in eighteen, eighty Reverend Fives church sat less than one hundred miles from the border and it would be completely swept up in this crisis. Eventually, five in his congregants would give shelter to hundreds of central Americans. They be joined by a network of churches across the country, all opening their doors in giving migrants a safe place to stay. This would make the beginning of a new and controversial social movement based on the old religious concept of sanctuary. The idea
churches have a duty to shelter people fleeing persecution. More than six thousand people have signed up to provide sanctuary around the solitary guy crackdown on show called Sanctuary shitty there or there's been a lot of talk about sanctuary in the news recently. The modern movement in the. U S can trace its roots back to Reverend Fife organisms next to episodes. Looking at how the sanctuary move it started in how it cause the biggest showdown between church and state or in recent history after at first encounter with the salvadorans at the hospital Reverend five begin see more and more central Americans arriving in Tucson. Some of then would come to his church and ask for help and at first His inclination was to work within the rules of the immigration system, it was pretty naive, tat point and I went
to the immigration office. Here in Tucson met with the director. And said were seen refugees who are fleeing for their lives. What do we need to do to protect them and he said? Well, we have good political asylum law in the book. And if there are deserving of political asylum if their refugees they'll get political asylum aside, I'm your pie, for, if you were within the United States, and have a well founded fear of persecution. I'm talking law here this is Ruth admires. I was different, the director of the immigration or naturalisation service four Arizona and nineteen. Eighty four, a couple years later, they added Nevada. Since nineteen eighty, when Congress pass the refugee act, the you as has asked people to meet a number of requirements in order to be granted political asylum, we have to establish, they fear persecution in their home country based on their race
religion, nationality, political opinion or social group they also have to, invents immigration that their government is actually involved in their persecution or that it can't control the groups that are If someone shows up in the U S and they can meet those requirements, they're supposed to be able to stay, but it's not always that SIMPLE Myers, used to interview people seeking asylum, and she says it could be tough to establish a person status It relied heavily on a single individuals testimony about what they ve been through. Depends on the individual. It depends on what they say and how they say it, and if they have any backing. So basically it was my decision based on my experience, and what the person said, because, as you can understand, there was very little physical evidence of this
Despite the challenges of qualifying for asylum, Reverend five in his church raise some money and organise legal assistance for the migrants. They started visiting detention centres and helping people fill out asylum applications. They for lawyers to represent them in court, but it began to seem like even the people who met the requirements for asylum were not getting it like, even in cases where there was physical evidence. I couldn't number taking in a guy who had been tortured in El Salvador. And why flew in an Amnesty international doctor who testified that the add this guy's been torture, I'm an expert on the physical effects of torture and the Immigration judge would order deported the next day reverend. I begin to wonder what was behind these decisions to deport sexual Americans hoping for asylum, face some significant hurdles for one thing, just as they begin,
Turning up along the? U S, Moscow border in nineteen, eighty, tens of thousands of refugees from other places like Cuba in IRAN were also seeking refuge in the union. It states, the government was overwhelmed with obligations. Central Americans had also historically come to the: U S for jobs, not because of political persecution. The government was more inclined to see them as economic migrants. On top of that, there was the cold Mr Speaker, distinguished members of the Congress honoured guests and my fellow, distinguished members of the Congress, honoured guests and my fellow Americans. In nineteen. Eighty three President Ronald Reagan delivered a special televised speech before Congress he outlined. His concerns about the civil wars flaring up in Central America,
too many in Central America is just that place way down below Mexico that can possibly constitute a threat to our. Well being and that's why I've asked for this session Central America's problems do directly affect the security and well being of their own people sent Reagan's our central America as an important front in the cold war, a region so close to the? U s that our national security required us to stop communist movements from flourish in their Nicaragua. Is justice close to Miami San Antonio San, Diego too, such as those cities are to Washington where we're gathered tonight Just a few years earlier in nineteen, seventy nine, a socialist revolution actually did happen in Nicaragua. The sun these two national liberation front had ousted a: U S, backed dictatorship which had roared the country for decades. The dome speed,
the Reagan administration was sending aid. To contrast, fighting the new socialist sending needs to government and the EU as was also doing its best, to suppress similar leftwing movements in El Salvador and Guatemala, which went backing the authoritarian governments that still had a grip on power in those countries. Information, I say to you that tonight there can be no question: national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America. Thank you so here how this all can to son and the deportations that Reverend Fife was seen because the? U S, government, consider the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala to be political allies. In the fight against communism, it denied These governments were persecuting their own people and Europe. In almost all salvadoran and guatemalan border crossing were classified not as political refugees, but as economic migrants. That meant they do
qualify for asylum. May God sent back Ruth admires the phone I am thus director in Arizona says Russian officers followed policy set by the government, which has broad discretion when it comes to asylum decisions. The immigration officers, Weatherby enforcement or the asylum officers or whatever, where Making up there are criteria. Are the law this all came from Congress? The result of this policy was stopped. When it came to Salvadorans and guatemalans between nineteen eighty three and nineteen. Eighty six fewer than three percent of some Georgians and Guatemalans who applied for asylum, were approved in that same period the prove all right for Iranian was sixty percent for Afghans in the soviet invasion, it was close to forty percent. Back in on that put reverend five in his congregants in its opposition,
They didn't want to encourage migrants to report immigration when they knew it was almost certain they'd be deported, so they have the series of meetings to figure out what to do and that's when Jim Corbett started showing up it's already described Jim because he was a unique figure Jim. I bet, died in two thousand and one, but back in the eighties I've done the edge of Tucson. He raised goats and New a lot about philosophy. He was also a quicker and, as the refugee crisis, son continued to grow gems. Religious faith compelled him to take action. He'd started letting refugees stay at his house and in some other ramshackle trailers scattered around his property surgeon started coming to meetings outside presbyterian Church, where their discussing the deportations and after one of those meetings Jim, come up to Reverend five and his contention at that point to me was John,
I don't think we have any choice under the circumstances except to begin to smuggle peoples. Safely across the borders of their not captured and detained and deported. My response how the hell do you figure that Jim and he explained doings. That they needed to consider two moments in history? The first was back one thousand hundred when church people a lot of them quakers help to move runaway slaves across state lines in through the underground rail road to safety, and he paid quickly said we have to conclude from history that they got it right Those were the folks who understood and got it right, Then Jim pointed to the church and its failure to protect jewish people fleeing the Holocaust and the nineteen thirties and fortys many Jews, detained and reported back to Germany, where they were killed. Jim argue that Christians should have done more to protect them.
And he said they they failed. They failed completely as people have faith as the church. And I said, yeah you're right. And he's punch line was John. I don't think we can allow that to happen on our border in on in our time and for a couple of sleepless nights. I went back to him and said yeah you're right. I I cannot be a pastor of a church here on the border and not do what you're asking so sigh me up at the point Jim Corbett had already done. Some border runs on his own picking up migrants in Mexico and helping them cross the border into the United States, but now Reverend five and a handful of other started helping him at first. They bring people across and but the mother gems house quickly became. Clear. They needed more space. So once again, Jim came to talk.
With reverent five. He wanted the church to start hosting people That was a question that the whole congregation had to deal with it. That's not an easy choice for people to make. They talked and prayed and then voted to let central american refugees stay at the church. Soon, any given night. The church would have dozens of people sleeping in the main gathering space. Church members would provide food clothes, English, ascends medical care and access to legal advice. They'd help the refugees strategies about what to do. Next, it wasn't as if the migrants were entirely safe. They were still undocumented and faced possible deportation, but they had access to resources, guidance a place to stay. The congregation itself side was drawing a long religious tradition when they decided to take the refugees into their church. Its actually in to tradition of Temple, and churches
an synagogues and and sacred sites of indigenous peoples, they, those back as far as any history we know about, in Greece and roman history. People who are threatened with persecution could find protection and temples when the Rome, Empire became christian churches took on the same function, the concept of Sanctuary can also be found in medieval cannon. Long and british common law as nation states involved in Europe. Some of those nations legally recognised the right of churches to shelter, people more recently, churches, sheltered. Conscientious objectors during the Vietnam WAR but even though Reverend five was drawing on a long religious tradition His congregants were still harbouring undocumented immigrants who crossed into the country illegally and it turns out the government keeping an eye on their growing operation.
What do we do under those circumstances? In in the only conclusion we came to was well the only choice this we have is to go public with what we're doing they thought. Maybe by going public the church could generate attention and public support. They invited a couple of other churches to join them in a public announcement and March of nineteen. Eighty two. They hung two huge banners on the front of the church. They said in spanish This is a sanctuary of God for the oppressed of Central America and immigration do not profane sanctuary God. They held a service and publicly welcomed a new family from El Salvador to join the other refugees who are staying at the church and they stage a press conference to explain. Exactly what the sanctuary movement was and what their goals were. So yeah we're. We made some National news in American Southwest Sanctuary
one has become a highly emotional issue: supporters about movement, mainly church people, refugee issues and all members of the so called sanctuary book that offers a comfort and shelter to illegal aliens about two hundred churches across the United States have joined the sanctuary movement bowing to violate the law is necessary as the movement gained visibility. It became more controversial. The federal gum- contents conscience, is not a good excuse for violating the law. Our objection to any such movement is takes large without heads. Despite these government objections, the move continued to grow more and more churches and synagogue started to get in touch with reverent five. They call us and say: can you send us a family, we're gonna, declare, sanctuary and network started to develop, which
Reverend five and Jim Corbett had to figure out how to safely transport refugees across the country to the churches that could support them so german. I basically said down here: with a map of the United States. And sell. Ok, who do you know an Albuquerque, and who do you know in Denver and due to you know across the United States, so we could move people and we literally in one afternoon figured out an underground rail road and we model did on the old underground rail road. But the main nineteen eighties, hundreds of churches and synagogues across the country had joined the sanctuary movement most every mainstream church denomination had gotten involved, including Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists sanctuary. Volunteers came from a wide variety of political viewpoints, including conservative, but everyone
Share the belief that churches needed to respond to the central american crisis, these American, churches were connected to a network of churches that extended down into Mexico and Central America, so migrants could plug into this network and make their way north some would find shelter in Mexico. Others would continue into the? U s: that's exactly what Patricia Barcelona did. My name is Patricia about. Fellow I, refugee from my mother, and I have lived in the United States since nineteen eighty five, but you see I grew up in Guatemala City and her parents were union organizers during the civil war which made them a target of the government they labour my dad and my mom has been involved in subversive in wanting to overthrow the government and- I was enough for them to kill. You disappear. You or do whatever they wanted to do to you at one point treaty is dad disappeared for many weeks, he'd been kidnapped by the military and the police. You see family never learned exactly who
he came home. Being the shadow of a man that he was because he was so skinny in I mean bony had a beard so long. He look at like my dad He made it back and with him, be rat horrible story of torture and things that had been done to him that what do you mean at that point, Patricius Parents fled to Mexico City leaving Teresa in her sister with their grandmother preparing, said they'd be in touch when they had a plan for two years. Nothing. In a letter from her mother and There said you know bring the girls to the border, bring him to this biking chap us and I will be their weight Patricia in her sister across the border from Guatemala into Mexico and met there mom at a designated park. They learn.
That she'd met some quakers involved in the sanctuary movement. The quakers the family to head to Northern Mexico where they were met, a catholic priest, Meme Father Ricardo effort. He worked closely with reverent. Five he wanted to know what had happened in Guatemala. He wanted to know why we worry wanting to go did the? U S, he said you know just tell me, you know what we want. Because we want to bring you, want to know what we can do for you, and my mom told him everything that happened that the two and then said it's everything's, gonna be ok. Father Alfred was vetting the family, he was making sure they qualified as refugees, as the sanctuary network had grown. They had to develop a more formalised process. This was partly twin sure their limited resources, one towards helping people who are most in need, was also to try and ensure they warrant putting volunteers at risk or bringing one dangerous interview ass, one
governments, criticisms of the sanctuary movement was that they lack the expertise and resources to evaluate potential refugees. The guy worried they might be helping criminals enter the country or communists. Who wanted to undermine the? U S: government, here's reverend! Five again! I would this guy. A smile and say you don't understand the church. We have the best intelligence system in the world. As I understand it, what you say, as you have five CIA agents in El Salvador right now. I have thousands they're called priests and pastors, and I, the deuce pick up the phone and call them and they'll give me the whole family history ones. Father for it was satisfied that Patricia and her family actually met the requirements for refugee status. He arranged them to be brought to cross the border into the? U S, we got that's very early in the morning in this yellow truck
we were thrown in the back right under lad to sleeping bags and They told us that, no matter what we couldn't popper heads up, which has had to stay on their need, the family crossed into Douglas Arizona and then headed to Tucson, where they stayed, Saint Michael's, episcopal another virgin town that had declared sanctuary Magellan. Therefore, six months, they moved into a house and started the long process, I understand the: U S, it took them more than six years of legal wrangling to receive asylum, Patricia still gets emotional thinking, about what the sanctuary movement did for her and her family. I didn't where my parents talking about this in saying you know who would do this, who would risk their lives? You know they're good life's here in the EU, is for people like us.
But as the grew bigger and more visible, the whole endeavour became riskier, but, quite frankly, I never thought we were going to get away with this that the first time I went to the border to do a crossing one thousand nine hundred and eighty one sometime. I had to get comfortable with the fact that we weren't going to get away with this. I was gonna come after us and it was only a matter of time. John was right. It was only a matter of time and the religious motivations of the sanctuary movement didn't get much sympathy from the government. They have the right to think what they want. Anybody, Dutch, but does to exclude them from obeying the wells or the United States. Somebody get say I and gets my religious right to rob a liquor store, and I think most of us would say no. It's not
next week on. Ninety nine percent. Invisible undercut Our government informants infiltrate the sanctuary movement yeah couple of these guys. I thought they don't fit percent invisible was produces week by deleting hall was refused, Avery Shuffle meant, and if its Gerald same Greenspan and me roman Mars, our senior ninety nine percent in was produced this week by Delaney Hall was refused every government and, if it Gerald same Greenspan and me roman moors- are seen editor is Katy Mingle. Kurt coasted is our digital director turn Visa is the office manager Sean Rio composed original music for this episode with additional music by ok, I'm coming and melodious special thanks to tread we at the University of Arizona, special collections, Endued Party,
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.