Loréna E. Ahumada

University of New Hampshire



Mentor: William R. Jones - Professor of History

Church Sanctuary and Central American Refugees: An Historical Overview

During the early 1980's, a number of Central American refugees sought sanctuary in American churches, which placed these churches in technical violation of U.S. immigration and naturalization laws. Churches, synagogues, and Quaker meetings had to choose between secular authority and their religious beliefs (Golden & McConnell 17).

Whereas the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Justice Department saw sanctuary as a purely criminal act deserving of prosecution, countless Americans perceived it as a primarily religious, sometimes political and always humanitarian movement with ancient roots. In order to fully understand the Modern Sanctuary Movement two aspects must be examined: (1) the history of church sanctuary and (2) the reasons behind its existence today.

Conclusions I have reached: 

(1) Although the Modern Sanctuary Movement and the practice of Medieval sanctuary both stem from the teachings of the Bible, they share more differences than similarities. (2) The Sanctuary Movement is a direct result of the INS's blatant refusal to grant political asylum to Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees.

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