The roots of Sanctuary 2014 date back to its 2007 founding as the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), which described itself as “a national newsletter and blog [linking] different religious groups and congregations” in at least 10 states from Massachusetts to Washington. Aiming to promote “a more compassionate U.S. immigration policy,” NSM’s member congregations not only offered sanctuary to illegals facing deportation, but also provided clothing, food, money, and legal counseling to thousands of additional immigrants, legal and illegal alike. On the premise that America’s existing immigration system was awash in “moral injustice” because it called for deporting illegals even if they had given birth to babies within the United States, NSM vowed to “publicly provide hospitality” to such individuals, and to “protect parents and children from being torn apart until there is just, comprehensive immigration reform.”
NSM presented itself as a revival of the 1980s Sanctuary Movement, which was a coalition of some 500 active denominations and at least 1,000 ideologically affiliated churches that smuggled Central Americans into the U.S. and then protected them from federal immigration law. Many of the “refugees” whom that earlier movement aided were Marxist activists who claimed to be fleeing “right-wing” oppression and retaliation.
Besides ideology, there were other material ties between NSM and its 1980s forebear. For example, Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, who avidly supported that earlier movement, also co-founded the organization Faith in Public Life (FPL), which in 2007 was instrumental in the creation of NSM. Moreover, FPL was closely allied with two of NSM’s three “coordinating members”: (a) Interfaith Workers Justice, an open-borders group associated with the pro-socialist community organization ACORN); and (b) Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (an FPL affiliate and a front group for ACORN). The third coordinating member of NSM was the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, an anti-deportation, pro-illegal-immigrant rights group.
In 2007, the year of its founding, NSM gained prominence by using the deportation case of Elvira Arellaño as a rallying and recruiting platform for its “social justice” agenda. Arellaño’s story was as follows: She had entered the United States illegally ten years earlier (a misdemeanor), but was subsequently caught and deported by immigration authorities. Within days, she returned to the U.S. without inspection (a felony) and went to live for three years in Oregon, where she gave birth to a son in 1999. In 2000 Arellaño moved to the Chicago area and used a stolen identity to get a job under a false name. In 2002 she was arrested for identity theft and Social Security fraud. When the Department of Homeland Security tried to deport Arellaño for a second time and ordered her to report to immigration authorities in August 2006, she defied the order and instead took sanctuary in a Chicago storefront church, thereby becoming an NSM icon. When Arellaño was finally arrested and deported to Mexico in August 2007, NSM called it a miscarriage of justice and a tragic consequence of America’s “broken” immigration system. NSM spokesman Father Juan Carlos Ruiz used the occasion to demand “a stop on [all] deportations until the law is fixed.” “It is a crime of justice,” he declared; “It is an offense, an insult to God, to somehow treat our brothers and sisters who are immigrants, as criminal. So we cry out, demanding a moratorium from all deportations and all raids.”
Within months of Arellaño’s deportation, NSM boasted that rather than succumbing to the Department of Homeland Security’s attempts “to silence Elvira,” it had added two-dozen church branches to its coalition while providing sanctuary for a number of other illegal immigrants who were likewise facing deportation. As NSM member Rev. Gil Martinez put it, “the law of God that says that […] there are no borders, [and that] is the law we are required to follow.”
In 2014, NSM changed its name to Sanctuary 2014, describing itself as “a growing movement of immigrant [communities] and over 300 faith communities doing what Congress and the Administration refuse to do: protect and stand with immigrants facing deportation.” The Sanctuary 2014 website features petitions calling on people to “stand in solidarity and help stop the deportations of mothers and fathers who are in Sanctuary in faith communities across the country.” The sponsors of Sanctuary 2014 include the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition, the Church World Service, Groundswell, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, the PICO Network’s Campaign for Citizenship, the Phoenix Restoration Project, Southside Presbyterian Church, University Presbyterian Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.