The Legacy of Romero and Sanctuary’s Truth Tellers

Faith-based activism for immigrant rights has been crucial since the 1980s.

By Mu00f3nica Novoa Mar 09, 2011

Our movement to Drop the I-Word and the commitment from many communities of faith to prioritize human rights and recognize the dignity of immigrants is inextricable from the labor of love that was the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s. On March 24, 1982, two years after death squads in El Salvador killed Archbishop Oscar Monseñor Romero, the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona was declared a public sanctuary. Nationally, over 500 sites including churches, synagogues and student groups were organized in solidarity with immigrants fleeing civil wars and oppressive Reagan administration-supported regimes in Central America. 

Despite overwhelming evidence of military repression in El Salvador and Guatemala, political asylum and refugee status was most often denied. Many who had already risked their lives seeking justice in Central America, continued to sacrifice here, as they painstakingly organized and advocated for immigration reform.

Sanctuary had the energy and leadership of immigrants who courageously traveled around the country giving testimony and encouraging congregations to walk with them. At the heart of the Sanctuary movement was Romero’s commitment to peacefully confront structural injustice and violence. The importance of combating apathy and inspiring compassion was supported by the "No Human Being is Illegal" campaign named by Nobel prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Faith-based activism for immigrant rights has continued since the 80s. And local alliances are always forged between immigrants, advocacy groups and groups of all faiths. The Drop the I-Word campaign is currently endorsed by the California Council of Churches and by the United Methodist Church’s General Commission on Religion and Race, GCORR which has adopted the tagline "No Child of God is Illegal" for its internal Drop the I-Word campaign. "a media-driven, culture-shaping movement seeking to inspire and mobilize young Evangelical Christians towards championing the needs of immigrants" dispels myths and distortions in the immigration debate. All around the country people are reaching congregants of all faiths with basic messages of love and justice for all, reminding us of Romero’s words, "When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises."

Most importantly, immigrants continue to fearlessly lead and share their own stories. This Thursday March 10 marks the second year that the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago will have a rally and march to declare they are undocumented, unafraid, and in 2011, unapologetic

This year’s March 10 activities will be followed by Coming out of the Shadows week nationally March 14-18. Next week the Drop the I-Word blog will feature "I Am" stories from young people from around the country in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, NIYA.