Sunday reading on sanctuary and asylum


California Sunday magazine has a long article on sanctuary: what it is, what it isn’t, California-specific laws regarding immigration enforcement, federal courts upholding California laws against Trump administration challenges, differing opinions on immigration and enforcement and “sanctuary” laws in different parts of the state, and the Kate Steinle shooting and how it was turned into a propaganda tool. The article includes differing police viewpoints, ICE, immigrants, farmers, employers: it is long and comprehensive.

Sanctuary has a long history, with its most recent iterations born in the 1980s, when genocide, civil war, and political persecution drove refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras north in search of safe haven. Yes—same countries that families are leaving now, though with a different political scenario. Back then, recalls retired Pastor John Fife:

“In the summer of 1980, a group of Salvadoran refugees was crossing the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument west of Tucson. It was over the Fourth of July, and the coyote who took them across abandoned them. Thirteen died; 12 survived. When Border Patrol hospitalized the traumatized survivors, they asked me to provide pastoral care. That’s how I heard about the massacres and death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala.

“After that, the question was, What’s our responsibility? The head of Tucson’s Immigration and Naturalization Service office advised us to offer legal aid, but after eight or nine months, it was clear that no one was getting political asylum. It became a serious ethical question for us.”

The Voice of America published an article on asylum last week, which included the following summary of the requirements for asylum:

“1) They have a “reasonable fear” of persecution in their home country. Reasonable fear is defined by the United Nations as at least a 10 percent chance of persecution.

“2) They must fear persecution on one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social class (the most amorphous of the five categories — it can include things like sexuality or caste).

“3) They must prove the government of their home country is either involved in the persecution or unable to control it.

“… Asylum-seekers come into the U.S. and apply either at the border or once inside the country, whether they entered legally or not….

“Thedenial-of-asylum rate [in 2017] was 61.8 percent, and it was the fifth year in a row that denial rates had risen. About five years ago, the figure was 44.5 percent.”

Jeffrey Chase, a distinguished attorney and former immigration judge, published another account in his blog, beginning with this personal reaction:

“It is difficult not to cry (as I did) while listening to the recording of a recent immigration court hearing at a detention facility near the border.  The immigration judge addresses a rape victim who fled to this country seeking asylum. She indicates that she does not feel well enough to proceed. When asked by the judge if she had been seen by the jail’s medical unit, the woman responds that she just wants to see her child (who had been forcibly separated from her by ICE), and breaks down crying.  The judge is heard telling a lawyer to sit down before he can speak. The woman, still crying, repeats that she just wants to see her child. The immigration judge proceeds to matter-of-factly affirm the finding of DHS denying her the right to apply for asylum. The judge then allows the attorney to speak; he points out for the record that the woman was unable to participate in her own hearing.  The judge replies “so noted.” He wishes the woman a safe trip back to the country in which she was raped, and directs her to be brought to the medical unit. He then moves on to the next case on his docket. Neither DHS (in its initial denial) nor the immigration judge (in his affirmance) provided any explanation or reasoning whatsoever for their decisions. According to immigration attorneys who have recently represented asylum seekers near the border, this is the new normal….

“There is no further appeal from an immigration judge’s decision regarding credible fear.”

For much more on sanctuary, what it is and what it isn’t, see my previous articles in this blog, and in YES Magazine:

And for local connections to sanctuary, see Weighing the consequences and risks, many church communities in Minnesota choose to take a stand (Minnesota Women’s Press)

The idea and practice of sanctuary take on new importance as the Trump administration tries to remove the possibility of asylum, in violation of U.S. and international law. Even some Congressional Republicans are willing to say no to Attorney General Sessions order that asylum be denied to all women fleeing domestic violence and all people fleeing gang violence.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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