As some of the readings in this section point out, we are accustomed to discussing immigration as a political issue, but not always as a humanitarian issue.



Unit 6: Immigration in the Twenty-First Century

As some of the readings in this section point out, we are accustomed to discussing immigration as a political issue, but not always as a humanitarian issue. Politicians debate immigration policy or strategies for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants across our borders. But abstract policy may seem difficult to apply when we see compelling photos of refugees desperate to escape war, violence, or crushing poverty—people who go to extreme lengths to reach foreign shores, only to be turned back or to find themselves stuck in the limbo of refugee camps. Our hearts may reach out to them, but we may also fear them because some of the countries being fled are hotspots for terrorism.

For those immigrants who already reside within our borders, shifting federal immigration policies and enforcement priorities are sources of tension and concern. Some U.S. citizens want to support federal immigration laws while others seek to create “sanctuary cities” that protect illegal aliens from deportment. As the first reading in this unit from the Washington Post demonstrates, even though there is no legal definition of “sanctuary city,” many cities and counties enact policies that limit cooperation with federal requests to detain individuals. Advocates for sanctuary cities claim that such policies encourage trust in local law enforcement by immigrant communities and therefore increase public safety. Those opposed say that local law enforcement is hampering the federal government’s ability to detain and deport dangerous individuals. Some immigrants may be refugees from harsh conditions in their home countries, but formal refugee status is quite difficult to obtain.

The readings in this unit ask you to consider the issues and challenges of immigration in a country that prides itself on its immigrant origins but sometimes has trouble welcoming people with unfamiliar appearances, languages, and practices. How well is the United States accommodating its immigrant populations? Are we doing enough to protect Americans from those who might cause harm? Should we be opening our doors wider to the citizens of other countries who are suffering? When determining policy, what or whose concerns should take precedence



ARTICLE 1: Darlene Nicgorski, “Convicted of the Gospel”

Darlene Nicgorski is a former nun who was convicted of sheltering refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala in the early 1980s. She was a leader in the Sanctuary movement of that era. This piece was published in the September–October 2016 issue of Sojourners magazine, which describes itself as sitting “at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture.”

On May 1, 1986, a federal jury found nine church activists guilty of conspiracy to violate U.S. immigration laws for assisting Central American refugees. At our sentencing, I faced a possible 25-year prison sentence.

The “sanctuary trial” drew national attention; millions of Americans learned about the plight of Central American refugees and the church-led sanctuary movement to aid them. After a seven-month trial and our conviction, the judge suspended our sentence and gave us five years of probation.

In the 1980s, our case hinged on the fact that we knew that those arriving over the southern border were refugees from brutal wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. I had worked in Guatemala and in Guatemalan camps in southern Mexico. We placed refugees in communities of faith where people met them as real people and learned why they had fled. We defied U.S. immigration laws in order to protect life. We also challenged the Reagan administration’s support of brutal regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Today, most of the non-Mexican undocumented immigrants coming over the border are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Many are unaccompanied minors or single adults with children. Many have legitimate asylum cases, but don’t have adequate legal representation.

5The new sanctuary movement is addressing four key areas: First, assisting migrants when they arrive with basic needs and legal help. Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services in El Paso, Texas, is the largest provider of “Know Your Rights” information to refugees, particularly those staying in community-run hospitality houses along the border. Without the assistance of volunteers, usually church-affiliated, migrants would be on their own—or worse, detained in for-profit prisons.

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