AbstractIn the 1980s, a group of religious leaders in the United States founded the sanctuary movement, a grassroots initiative that mobilized congregations across the country to provide aid and shelter to Central American refugees. By the early 1990s, the movement had achieved remarkable success, both as a humanitarian endeavor and as a political effort. Now, some 25 years later, the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) seeks to replicate its namesake’s success in organizing on behalf of undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
While the two sanctuary movements share much in common, they also differ in a number of important respects. Whereas the 1980s movement represented a response to an acute crisis, the NSM is a response to an entrenched policy regime and political culture that treat undocumented immigrants as criminals and invaders. In attempting to sway public opinion, the 1980s movement sought to overcome North Americans’ apathy and ignorance, whereas the NSM must contend with a powerful and hostile opposition, led by the president of the United States. And whereas the 1980s movement had a central organizing body that coordinated individual congregations, the NSM is a radically decentralized initiative that places a premium on local autonomy.
This thesis utilizes a qualitative analysis of both the 1980s sanctuary movement and the NSM to critically assess the latter’s progress thus far and its prospects for future success. It ultimately concludes that although the NSM is likely to continue expanding and providing aid to undocumented immigrants via individual sanctuary congregations, the movement’s decentralized structure will inhibit its ability to effectively advocate for national-level policy change. Consequently, its impact will remain local, not systemic.
TypePrinceton University Senior Theses