Legacies and origins of the 1980s US--Central American sanctuary movement.
Asylum, Right of
Refugees, Salvadoran (Political activity)
Refugees, Salvadoran (Social aspects)
Coutin, Susan Bibler
|Publication:||Name: Refuge Publisher: Centre for Refugee Studies Audience: General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Centre for Refugee Studies ISSN: 0229-5113|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2009 Source Volume: 26 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Event Name: 1980s (Decade) Event Code: 290 Public affairs|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States; 20CEN Central America|
This article re-examines the US-Central American sanctuary movement of the 1980s. Our re-examination is motivated by two factors. First, with the passage of time it is possible to discern the movement's origins in ways that could not be fully articulated while it was ongoing. We are able to show how certain relationships between the movement's North and Central American activists were celebrated, while others were obscured due to fear for Salvadoran immigrant activists' safety and concern about inadvertently undermining the movement's legitimacy. Specifically, we draw attention to the movement's transnational nature, noting that what made it so powerful was its origin as part of a broader effort by Salvadoran revolutionaries to mobilize North American society to oppose US support for the Salvadoran government. Ironically, to achieve this objective Salvadoran immigrant activists had to stay quiet, become invisible, and abstain from taking certain leadership roles, while embracing identities that may have implied weakness or passivity, such as "refugee" or "victim." Second, the US-Central American sanctuary movement provides powerful insight into future understandings of sanctuary as a concept and practice. The movement's legacies extend beyond participants' stated goals, while the movement's transnational political and organizational focus differentiates it from current sanctuary practices. Thus, re-examining its origins and legacies suggests that apparent similarities in the form of sanctuary incidents may hide underlying differences and that current sanctuary practices may also eventually have unanticipated consequences.
Cet article examine a nouveau le << sanctuary movement >> aux Etats-Unis et en Amerique centrale durant les annees 1980. Deux facteurs expliquent ce reexamen. (1), avec le passage du temps, il est possible de discerner les origines du mouvement qui ne pouvaient pas etre entierement articulees alors qu'il etait en cours. Nous sommes en mesure de montrer comment certaines relations entre activistes nordamericains et leurs contreparties centre-americaines ont ete fetees, tandis que d'autres ont ete occultees par crainte pour la securite des militants salvadoriens pro immigration et par peur d'accidentellement miner la legitimite du mouvement. Plus precisement, nous attirons l'attention sur la nature transnationale du mouvement, soulignant que ce qui l'a rendu si puissant sont ses origines dans le cadre d'un effort plus large par les revolutionnaires salvadoriens en vue de mobiliser la societe nord-americaine en opposition a l'appui des Etats-Unis pour le pouvoir salvadorien. Ironie du sort, pour atteindre cet objectif les militants salvadoriens ont du rester muets, devenir invisibles et s'abstenir de prendre certains roles de leadership, tout en affichant des identites, comme << refugie >> ou << victime >>, qui pouvaient implicitement signifier la faiblesse ou la passivite. 2, le << sanctuary movement >> des Etats-Unis et de l'Amerique centrale dorme un puissant apercu de notre comprehension future de la notion de sanctuaire en tant que concept et pratique. Le legs du mouvement va au-dela des objectifs declares des participants, alors que son accent transnational, politique et organisationnel le differencie des pratiques actuelles. Ainsi, un reexamen des origines du mouvement et de son heritage suggere que des similitudes apparentes sous la forme de cas de sanctuaire peuvent masquer des differences sous-jacentes et que les pratiques actuelles du sanctuaire peuvent aussi avoir des consequences eventuelles imprevues.
Given the proliferation of sanctuary activities internationally and the emergence of the new sanctuary movement in the United States, (1) it is worthwhile to re-examine what may be the best-known instance of sanctuary practices: the US-Central American sanctuary movement of the 1980s. Our re-examination of this movement is motivated by two factors. The first is our sense that, with the passage of time, it is possible to discern the movement's origins and influences in a way that could not be fully articulated (even by its protagonists) while it was ongoing, and also that, with hindsight, the legacies of the sanctuary movement may now be more apparent. In particular, we seek to draw attention to the transnational nature of the US-Central American sanctuary movement, in terms of both the movement's organizational structure and its impact. It is perhaps obvious that a movement that was dedicated to securing political asylum for Central American asylum seekers and that (in at least some quarters) opposed US military intervention in Central American was transnational. What may be less obvious, however, is the degree to which sanctuary activities emerged as part of Central Americans' broader effort to mobilize sectors of the North American population in support of organized civil society actors working for social justice in E1 Salvador. Furthermore, although it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss those particular connections, Mexican and Canadian organizers and colleagues were part of the underground and above ground "railroad" along which Central Americans travelled, and Mexican movement participants were among those prosecuted in the 1985-1986 Tucson sanctuary trial. (2) This transnational political and organizational focus presents a clear difference between the 1980s US-Central American sanctuary movement, which was one part of a broader Central America peace and solidarity movement, and current sanctuary practices in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere, in which local communities seek primarily immigration remedies for individuals who are at immediate risk of deportation. (3)
Second, we believe that revisiting the US-Central American sanctuary movement offers valuable lessons that can give us powerful insight into future understandings of sanctuary as a concept and practice. The legacies of the US-Central American sanctuary movement are broad, extending beyond movement participants' stated goals of securing refuge, condemning human rights abuses, and preventing US military intervention abroad. Unintended consequences of sanctuary practices include complex legal changes in the United States, increased remittance flows to Central America, and the development of new networks of civil society organizations in both countries. Though not the sole cause of the changes that occurred, sanctuary activities were a necessary precondition for these developments. Thus, re-examining the movement's origins and legacies suggests that apparent resemblances in the form of sanctuary incidents may hide underlying differences. It also allows us to note that shifts in 'the bases for legitimacy lead some transnational connections and movement objectives to be celebrated while others are obscured. It also suggests that current sanctuary practices, like those of the 1980s US-Central American sanctuary movement, may eventually have unanticipated consequences as well.
In re-examining the US-Central American sanctuary movement, we bring together two different sorts of expertise. Hector Perla is a political scientist, specializing in US-Latin American relations, social and revolutionary movements, and Central American political engagement in the US. Perla's work is focused on highlighting the formal and contentious strategies that Central American activists, in their home countries and in the diaspora, use to challenge US foreign policy toward the region. The bulk of his interviews have been with Salvadoran solidarity activists and revolutionary militants in, or formerly based in, San Francisco and Los Angeles. (4) Susan Bibler Coutin, an anthropologist, did fieldwork within the San Francisco East Bay region and Tucson, Arizona, segments of the US-Central American sanctuary movement during the 1980s. As part of this fieldwork, she participated in sanctuary activities, interviewed one hundred movement participants, and collected documents and literature produced by and about the movement. (5) During the 1990s and the 2000s, she followed Central Americans' efforts to secure permanent legal status for their undocumented or only temporarily documented compatriots in the United States. (6) It is important to note that because our fieldwork focused on sanctuary communities in California and Arizona, there may be differences between the account derived from this research and the origins and advocacy work in other key movement sites, such as Chicago.
Bringing our expertise together allows us to focus on the agency of Central American collective actors (Frente Farabundo Marti de la Liberacion Nacional, or FMLN, Farabundo Martin National Liberation Front, a coalition of five guerrilla organizations and its supporters) in the context of a strategic interaction (the Salvadoran Civil War, in which the US government was a central protagonist), without sacrificing a deep understanding of the on-the-ground dynamics of the sanctuary movement as it unfolded.
Moreover we contextualize our analysis of this movement in a transnational framework that does not force a dichotomous definition of sanctuary as either a purely foreign or completely domestic movement. This contextualization, in turn, allows us to describe the nuanced relationships existing between North and Central American activists in a way that was impossible during and immediately after the conflict due either to fear for Salvadoran immigrant activists' safety or to concern about inadvertently undermining the movement's legitimacy. Specifically, we are now able to show how certain relationships within the sanctuary movement were celebrated, while others were hidden. In other words, we argue that part of what made the US-Central American sanctuary movement so powerful was that it emerged as part of a broader effort by Central American revolutionaries to mobilize opposition to US support for the Salvadoran government. But also we point out that, to do so, Salvadoran immigrants had to be willing to strategically stay quiet, become invisible, or abstain from taking on certain leadership roles in the movement, while, for the sake of achieving their and the movement's objectives, embracing identities that, to some, implied weakness or passivity, such as "refugees" or "victims." In this way Salvadoran immigrant activists used their strategic invisibility as a form of power, along the lines of what political scientists Keck and Sikkink have called leverage and accountability politics. (7) Analyzing the movement's framing of Central Americans as refugees makes it possible to identify broader political and other legacies of sanctuary activities, legacies that may not have been intended or anticipated by movement organizers. In particular, we draw attention to the ways that the success of the "refugee" framing created legal benefits that, in the postwar context, allowed the many years that Central Americans had lived in the US to be recognized as grounds for granting legal permanent residency, a recognition that had implications for Central American economies and nongovernmental organizations.
First, we describe the origins of the sanctuary movement in the United States and provide background information on the causes of political upheaval and migration by Salvadorans to the United States. Second, we document the transnational nature of the movement, highlighting the role of Central American refugees and immigrants whose participation in the movement has not been fully described or theorized. Third, we explore the unintended positive and negative consequences that the sanctuary movement engendered, including the legalization and growth of the Central American community in the United States, as well as the astronomical rise of remittances to El Salvador. Finally, we discuss how the movement has come full circle. That is, we draw attention to the fact that unjust economic and political conditions in El Salvador, conditions to which US foreign policy contributed and that originally gave rise to the sanctuary movement, are still present in the country today. Consequently, we document ways that organizations and activists that are in El Salvador and that have roots in or links to sanctuary are now fighting for Salvadoran citizens' right not to become migrants in the face of economic disparities, insecurity, and the dangerous nature of the trek to the United States.
Historical Context of the US-Central American Sanctuary Movement
From 1932 until the late 1970s El Salvador was ruled by a series of military dictators who came into office through either uncompetitive elections or coups. Starting in the late 1960s this system of governance began to be challenged by a growing collection of social movements. By 1972 this challenge had evolved to include a coalition of political parties of the centre and left (National Opposition Union, or UNO) with the support of many important civil society actors, which fielded a strong presidential candidate, Jose Napoleon Duarte. While it is widely believed that the UNO coalition won these elections, its candidates were not allowed to take office. In fact its presidential candidate was arrested and tortured, and had to go into exile. This electoral challenge was repeated in 1977 with similar results, anointing another high-ranking military officer, Carlos Romero, winner of the presidential race.
As a result of government intransigence, these institutional political challenges were accompanied by an upswing in social movement mobilization among unions and student, peasant, and religious organizations. The Salvadoran government responded to this contentious political challenge in much the same way that it met the formal political challenges to its authority--with violence; but it went after the social movement with even greater and ever-increasing levels of brutality. This brutality fed support for the incipient but rapidly growing armed revolutionary organizations that began forming in the early 1970s and would come together in 1980 to form the FMLN. (8) At the same rime, violence also caused many students, union members, and other activists to migrate to the United States in increasing numbers.
The rise of the US-Central American sanctuary movement was directly related to the dramatic increase in the numbers of undocumented Salvadorans fleeing political repression, social upheaval, and economic distress caused by the Salvadoran Civil War. Today, because of this exponential population growth, Salvadorans are the fourth-largest Latino-origin group in the United States behind only Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, numbering over two million and making up between 3 and 5 per cent of the total Latino population of the US. (9) While Salvadorans have resided in parts of the United States since at least the end of World War II, they did not come in large numbers until the late 1970s and especially early 1980s. (10) As violence escalated, particularly from government security forces and allied clandestine death squads, Salvadorans began moving from the countryside to the cities and eventually abroad, especially to the United States. By 1984, according to Byrne, "within El Salvador there were 468,000 displaced people (9.75 percent of the population), 244,000 in Mexico and elsewhere in Central America, and 50,000 more in the United States, for a total of more than 1.2 million displaced and refugees (25 percent of the population)." (11) While the US census estimated that in 1970 there were only 15,717 Salvadorans in the country, by 1980 that figure had grown to 94,447 and by 1990 had skyrocketed to 465,433. (12) Other estimates during the mid and late 1980s put the number significantly higher. For instance, a 1985 study by the Urban Institute estimated that there were between 554,000 and 903,000 Salvadorans living in the US at the time. (13) Likewise Montes and Garcia put the number of Salvadorans residing in the US at somewhere between 988,551 and 1,042,340. (14) Whatever the true number, the reality is that the massive influx of Salvadoran refugees arriving daily throughout the decade, some with papers but most without, quickly overburdened the capacity of established kinship and friendship social networks to provide adequate assistance to the new arrivals. (15)
Meanwhile it was becoming clear that US foreign policy toward the country would play a crucial role in determining the outcome of El Salvador's future governance. Despite its rhetorical commitment to human rights, throughout most of its tenure in office the Carter administration maintained support for the Salvadoran regime. When the Reagan administration came into office this support increased exponentially. Throughout the 1980s, US military and economic support for the Salvadoran government would total in excess of $6 billion. This support not only included extensive counter-insurgency training and provision of vast quantities of sophisticated armaments but, as was later acknowledged, also included active combat engagement against the FMLN by US military personnel. (16)
Transnational Nature of the Central American Sanctuary Movement
It was in this context of increased repression, immigration, and US involvement that the US-Central American sanctuary movement was born. The earliest organizational precursors to what would become the Central American solidarity movement, of which the US-Central American sanctuary movement was a key component, were several Salvadoran immigrant-based organizations. (17) These organizations were made up primarily of already established Salvadoran immigrant and US-born Salvadoran activists, who initially came together to denounce the lack of democratic freedoms in their home country, the Salvadoran military's human rights violations, and US aid to the Salvadoran government under these conditions. The first of these organizations was the Comite de Salvadorenos Progresistas (Committee of Progressive Salvadorans), which was founded in San Francisco in 1975 in response to the massacre of students from the University of El Salvador. The organization grew quickly and soon had the capacity to publish a weekly newspaper and even occupy the Salvadoran consulate. Shortly thereafter other Salvadoran immigrant-based organizations sprouted in others cities around the US with large Salvadoran communities. Among the most prominent of these organizations were Casa El Salvador (several cities), the Comite Farabundo Marti (also known as Casa El Salvador-Farabundo Marti), and the Movimiento Amplio en Solidaridad con El Pueblo Salvadoreno (MASPS). These immigrant-based groups often had ties to social movement organizations in El Salvador, which in turn were connected to different FMLN factions. These linkages usually originated in kinship or friendship ties, although some originated from immigrants' own previous activism in El Salvador. While the original initiatives of these organizations primarily sought to reach out to the Salvadoran and Latin American populations in the US, almost immediately progressive North Americans began gravitating toward their efforts. (18) In many instances, the North Americans brought with them prior experiences, such as involvement in anti-war activism during the Vietnam War, the freedom rides of the civil rights movement, and church-based refugee resettlement work. Therefore, sanctuary practices built on both North and Central Americans' rich experiences of social justice work.
During a 2000 interview, Don White, a Los Angeles-based organizer with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), recalled how North Americans were brought into Central American solidarity work:
In addition, these immigrant-based organizations' missions were originally focused on changing US foreign policy. However, it quickly became apparent to immigrant activists that they needed to do something to respond not only to the plight of their compatriots in their home country, but, with growing urgency, to the plight of an ever-increasing number of Salvadorans who were seeking refuge in the United States. At the same time, they also realized that these new arrivals' testimonies would serve as extremely compelling educational tools for North American audiences unfamiliar with US complicity in what was happening in El Salvador. As the then-director of the San Francisco Comite Farabundo Marti, Jose Artiga, explains,
Consequently, Salvadoran activists moved quickly to establish organizations to meet the immediate survival needs of their community, and other groups to advocate for their legal needs. Toward this end both Salvadorelaos Progresistas and Casa El Salvador Farabundo Marti created new organizations, which began providing housing and social as well as legal services for refugees in the late 1970s at Most Holy Redeemer's Catholic Church in San Francisco's Castro District where their offices were located. The first organization, started by Salvadorenos Progresistas, was called Amigos de El Salvador (Friends of El Salvador). (19) Casa Farabundo Marti soon followed suit, creating two organizations: the Centro de Refugiados Centroamericanos (CRECEN) and the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). (20) This redundancy is illustrative of the infighting that became prevalent among Salvadoran immigrantbased organizations throughout the 1980s and, indicating the degree to which solidarity work was transnational, mirrored the divisions that existed among the social movements and FMLN in El Salvador. These divisions sometimes led to strife between organizations with different contacts in the Salvadoran social and revolutionary movement, as well as to the creation of parallel solidarity organizations. To again quote Don White, "certain agencies grew up [that were] identified with one of the five armies of the FMLN.... In the early days, they often did not visit each other's agencies, because they saw them as I suppose both competitive, but also to some degree a different line of the Salvadorean struggle, which they might not have agreed with." As a result of these fratricidal conflicts, organizations such as Salvadorenos Progresistas and Amigos de El Salvador, despite their early accomplishments, were effectively red-baited and evicted from their offices. (21) While neither of these organizations would play a direct role in the creation of the US-Central American sanctuary movement, it is important to note that Salvadorenos Progresistas pioneered the strategy of immigrants approaching members of religious organizations to collaborate with them in an effort to mobilize the religious community, which other Salvadoran immigrant organizations would use to launch the movement. In 1981, following this strategy, members of the Santana Chirino Amaya Refugee Committee and the Southern California Ecumenical Council came together in Los Angeles to create El Rescate. The organization's stated mission was "to respond with free legal and social services to the mass influx of refugees fleeing the war in El Salvador." (22)
CARECEN, CRECEN, and El Rescate would each go on to play a key role in the development of the national sanctuary movement. Through these organizations, Central American activists mobilized pastors and congregants by educating them about events in Central America, US foreign policy, and the imminent danger that persecution victims would be deported back to their place of persecution. In Los Angeles, these groups worked closely with SCITCA, the Southern California Interfaith Task Force on Central America, to offer sanctuary to Central American refugees. (23) In the San Francisco East Bay, where Susan Coutin did fieldwork in the late 1980s, a member of the Comite de Refugiados Centroamericanos (CRECE) sent a representative to monthly steering committee meetings of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (EBSC). CRECE also arranged for Central Americans to speak publicly about their experiences to US audiences. (24) Central Americans were also an active force in sanctuary communities in Tucson, Washington, D.C., Houston, New York, Milwaukee, and elsewhere. As Jose Artiga, the former director of the San Francisco Comite Farabundo Marti, recounts,
As can be gleaned from the above quotes, one of the things that solidarity activists recognized early on was the strategic framing of the "refugee identity." This framing was a particular way of talking about and presenting Salvadoran immigrants to North American audiences, especially to those with no previous knowledge of the conflict and without any political, ideological, or epistemic connection to the plight of the Salvadoran people. Salvadoran immigrant activists realized that it was not enough to educate North Americans about what was happening in El Salvador and US government complicity in the human rights violations. It was also essential to create empathy, to spark a sense of urgency and obligation or responsibility that would motivate North Americans to take a stand against their own government on behalf of an "other" with whom they were largely unfamiliar. (25) Central Americans' organizing practices also had to be adapted to dominant US norms, values, and perceptions of how North Americans saw themselves and saw Third World "others." (In essence, these practices had to appeal to liberal ideals.) The narrative construct of the "refugee" met these needs by simultaneously drawing on shared Judeo-Christian traditions regarding exile, oppression, and refuge while also directing political attention to human rights abuses in Central America and to Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants' need for safe haven. Sanctuary also had a spatial dimension in that declarations of sanctuary attempted to "bound" US law by creating "safe spaces," even as participants argued that the US territory ought to serve as a refuge for victims of persecution in Central America. Furthermore, the term "refugee" has a legal dimension that countered accusations of lawlessness and therefore was central to the movement's claim to legitimacy. In other words, activists suggested that since the US government was failing to live up to its moral and legal obligations to grant political asylum to those deserving it (i.e. Central American refugees), then it was the obligation of congregations to set the moral example by doing so (i.e. providing sanctuary under God's authority), in the process using their moral credibility to openly defy what they considered unjust legal practices until the injustice was formally recognized. Nevertheless at the same rime that this identity allowed Salvadorans to reach out to broad US audiences, it also constrained their ability to act in those settings and, by reifying the asymmetric power relations between North and Central Americans, limited the relationships that could be developed. Such constraints were often fully overcome only by the most committed sanctuary activists who came to experience Salvadoran immigrants acting as empowered and strategic activists outside of the "refugee" identity.
The limitations imposed by the "refugee" identity are clear in two practices that were central to the US-Central American sanctuary movement: granting sanctuary and publicizing refugee testimonies. Sanctuary activists granted sanctuary by housing undocumented Central Americans in the churches, synagogues, or homes of congregation members. This arrangement provided Central Americans with material assistance, such as housing, food, access to medical care, job assistance, and other social services. At the same rime, sanctuary was designed to bring congregation members into close contact with victims of persecution in Central America, and thus to raise congregants' and others' consciousnesses and spur them to action. As one Salvadoran who was living in sanctuary in Tucson during the 1980s explained, "The moral and spiritual support that they gave us was great. In return, we collaborate in the various churches, telling about the terrible experiences that we've had in El Salvador." (26) Refugee testimonies--public accounts of personal experiences of violence and persecution--were central to these consciousness-raising efforts, and were often accompanied by fundraising appeals or information about how to get involved. Sanctuary thus often exposed Central Americans to intensive scrutiny, and to well-meaning but nonetheless culturally laden offers to "help." (27) While they often wanted to educate the North American public about conditions in their home countries, Central Americans also sometimes chafed at the refugee role. One Salvadoran living in sanctuary in the San Francisco East Bay in the 1980s commented that he preferred relationships that were "person to person instead of person to refugee." He added, "I left my country due to the violence and due to the fear and danger of disappearing, not in order to become a refugee. To me, the word 'refugee' implies inferiority and superiority." (28) Such criticisms did not go unheard, and in fact, there were tensions between different segments of the sanctuary movement (in particular, between Tucson and Chicago participants) over the necessity of coupling sanctuary with testimonies and over which sorts of "stories" ought to be publicized. The visibility, invisibility, and politicization of Central Americans were a major issue within these debates.
The "refugee" frame therefore largely presented Central Americans to sanctuary workers and to the broader US public as "innocent victims" in need of support and as representatives of the poor and the oppressed, on whose behalf religious communities were compelled to advocate. While refugee testimonies frequently described Central Americans' actions (such as leading a labour union or becoming a catechist) in pursuit of social justice in their homelands, the "refugee" frame also made it difficult to convey the organizational role that Central Americans played in mobilizing religious workers and the solidarity movement more generally. Thus, sanctuary activists spoke of hearing the Central Americans' call for solidarity and accompaniment, or of listening to the Central Americans and following their lead. However, the refugee framing necessarily positioned such responses as instances of materially better off North Americans acting strategically on behalf of the ostensibly innocent, authentic, or genuine (as opposed to strategic) Central Americans. As a result, this framing constrained Central American immigrant activists' ability to publicly identify as political protagonists or take credit for devising joint strategies for social and political change, although of course there was local and regional variation in the degree to which Central and North Americans achieved or were presented as equal partners within sanctuary practices. (29) Such framings were themselves, at times unconsciously, strategic, in that because the US government accused sanctuary workers of serving political rather than humanitarian and religious goals, the revelation that members of FMLN groups were involved in or the movement in some capacity, or behind the Central American organizations with which sanctuary workers collaborated, would have undermined sanctuary's legitimacy.
Legacies and Unintended Consequences
Just as the nature of transnational linkages becomes more clear with the passage of rime, so too do the unintended consequences of US-Central American sanctuary practices. Significantly, the rights that Central Americans achieved through sanctuary and solidarity activities created grounds, in the postwar period, for claiming US residency, despite a changed political context. Furthermore, movement participants' organizing experiences created a basis for establishing a transnational network of immigrant rights NGOs. Although the US-Central American sanctuary movement was not the only cause of these developments, it was an important precursor whose long-term impact is felt in both the United States and El Salvador. Though this impact varied from individual to individual and community to community, sanctuary workers' stated goals included securing safe haven for Central American refugees, convincing US authorities to apply asylum law without regard for the politics of the regime from which refugees fled, drawing attention to human rights abuses in Central America, providing protection (via an international presence) to Central Americans who were at risk of persecution, and preventing further US military intervention in Central American nations. To some degree, these objectives were achieved, though not solely due to sanctuary activities. In the wake of FMLN final offensive and the assassination of six Jesuit priests in 1989, the US government began to pursue a negotiated settlement to the civil conflict; the 1990 Immigration Act created Temporary Protected Status and named Salvadorans as the first recipients; asylum procedures were reformed in the early 1990s; and in 1997, Salvadorans and Guatemalans who immigrated during the Civil War were given the right to apply for legal permanent residency. Sanctuary practices thus helped to set in motion a complex set of legal developments in the United States. Ar the same time, the movement contributed indirectly to the rise in remittances to El Salvador, the creation of new civil society organizations in El Salvador and the United States, and the continued circulation of US activists, students, scholars, and religious workers in Central America. These indirect effects of the movement have helped to maintain attention on social justice issues and on the needs of refugees and migrants.
In the United States, a key but not always acknowledged legacy of the sanctuary movement is the development of new law to address the needs of asylum seekers. Throughout the 1980s, sanctuary activists sought legislation, known as "Moakley-Deconcini" after its sponsors Joe Moakley and Dennis Deconcini, which would have granted Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD) status to Salvadorans and Guatemalans. This bill faced stiff opposition from the Reagan and Bush administrations, which argued that Salvadorans and Guatemalans were economic immigrants who fled poverty rather than violence. While efforts to pass Moakley-Deconcini were under way, sanctuary workers launched their own legal case against the US government. In 1985, eleven sanctuary activists were indicted on charges of conspiracy and alien-smuggling. (30) In response, sanctuary communities and refugee service organizations filed a civil suit, known as American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh or ABC, seeking a halt to sanctuary prosecutions, a grant of safe haven to Salvadorans and Guatemalans, and reforms that would prevent US foreign policy considerations from influencing the outcome of asylum cases. The first two of these claims were dismissed on the grounds that US immigration law had changed since the earlier sanctuary prosecutions and that immigration laws were not self-executing.
Litigation on the third claim went forward, and the ABC case ceased to be directly about sanctuary per se. Then, in 1990, following the devastating events of the 1989 final offensive, in which six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were murdered by the Salvadoran army, legislation creating a new legal form, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), was approved, and Salvadorans were designated as the first recipients. (31) During the same year, the US government agreed to settle the ABC case out of court, and in 1991, the settlement agreement gave some 300,000 Salvadorans and Guatemalans the right to apply or reapply for political asylum under rules designed to ensure fair consideration of their claims. It would seem that sanctuary activists' goal of at least gaining a fair hearing for Salvadoran and Guatemalan asylum seekers had been achieved, while at the same time, TPS put a halt to deportations. Sanctuary and Central American activists had cause to celebrate.
Despite these victories, in the 1990s, events conspired to thwart the promise that TPS and the ABC settlement held out. First, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) put ABC asylum applications on the back burner in order to focus on quickly deciding new asylum petitions. Peace accords were signed in El Salvador in 1992 and in Guatemala in 1996, but interviews on ABC class members' asylum claims were not scheduled until 1997. By then, it was more difficult for applicants to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution, given that the wars in their homelands were officially over. Second, in 1996, the US Congress approved the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which made many forms of legalization more difficult. In particular, ABC applicants had hoped that if their asylum claims were denied, they could then apply for Suspension of Deportation, a form of legalization available to individuals who could demonstrate good moral character, seven years of continuous presence in the United States, and that deportation would be an extreme hardship. IIRIRA replaced Suspension of Deportation with Cancellation of Removal, for which applicants had to prove good moral character, ten years of continuous presence, and that deportation would pose extreme and exceptional hardship for the applicant's US citizen or legal permanent resident spouse, parent, or child. The heightened hardship standard, increased number of years of continuous presence, and introduction of the requirement of a qualifying relative meant that fewer ABC class members were likely to qualify. Furthermore, IIRIRA capped cancellation cases at 4,000 annually, making this an unlikely solution for the approximately 300,000 ABC class members with pending asylum claims.
In this changed legal scenario, Central American organizations and immigrant rights activists sought new legislation that would enable ABC class members to become legal permanent residents. By allying with Nicaraguans and with the support of the Clinton administration and the Central American governments, advocates obtained the passage of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) in 1997. NACARA basically restored ABC class members' suspension eligibility (renaming this "special rule cancellation") and exempted these cases from the 4,000 cap. The regulations that implemented NACARA also granted applicants a rebuttable presumption of hardship, virtually guaranteeing a grant in most cases, and took the unprecedented step of codifying the factors that went into the assessment of hardship. Through NACARA, some 83,340 Salvadorans and Guatemalans were able to become legal permanent residents. (32) These legal developments benefited not only Central Americans, but also nationals from other countries (including Burundi, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Herzegovina) who have received TPS due to emergencies in their home countries, as well as establishing a precedent for other groups, such as Haitians, who benefited from passage of the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) in 1998. Sanctuary and Central American advocates' original focus on asylum, El Salvador, and Guatemala changed the US legal landscape in ways that could not have been anticipated.
While not solely attributable to sanctuary activities, increased remittances to El Salvador are an indirect effect of these legal changes that the sanctuary movement helped bring about. As legal developments have increased the stability and job security of Salvadorans living in the United States they may also have improved these migrants' ability to remit to family members in El Salvador. (33) Specifically, remittances increased gradually throughout the 1980s, but grew more rapidly after 1990, when TPS was awarded. While in 1990 the country received less than $500 million, by 2007, Salvadorans living abroad sent almost $3.7 billion in remittances to family members living in El Salvador. (34) The quantity and importance of remittances to the country has not only risen in absolute terms; even more tellingly they have risen as a share of the country's total gross domestic product (GDP). Between 1990 and 2004, remittances more than doubled as a share of the country's overall economy, going from about 6 per cent to over 15 per cent of El Salvador's GDR. (35) At the same time, migrant remittances have had a huge impact on the economy of El Salvador, permitting the economy to stay afloat through economic readjustment programs of the postwar period. (36) This development in turn has made the legal status of Salvadorans in the USa matter of concern in El Salvador. Indeed, extending TPS, which was re-awarded to Salvadorans following the 2001 earthquakes and which at the time of writing was scheduled to expire in September 2010, has been a high priority of the Salvadoran government. (37) In fact, during the 2004 presidential election in El Salvador, some US politicians suggested that the United States could cut off remittance flows by rescinding TPS, were the FMLN candidate to be elected. (38)
Networks of civil society organizations in both E1 Salvador and the United States are another legacy of the US-Central American sanctuary movement. During a 2001 interview, an attorney who represented one of the first successful Salvadoran asylum seekers at the beginning of the 1980s described how his work provided a model for other groups dedicated to immigrants' rights:
In addition to these networks of immigrant rights organizations, many of the Central American groups that mobilized sanctuary workers have become established institutions, providing much needed social services and advocacy work in their communities. For example, in Los Angeles, CARECEN purchased its own building during the 1990s, and, in September 2008, celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Most recently, in Los Angeles, networks of attorneys and civil society organizations have been mobilized in response to workplace raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, "The effort has parallels to the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, when churches brought Central American refugees to the US to protect them from political violence." (39)
Likewise, in El Salvador, groups that focused on refugee rights during the 1980s have given rise to coalitions that now advocate for migrants' rights more generally. During the 1980s, the El Salvador offices of ACNUR (UNHCR, United Nations High Commission for Refugees), OIM (IOM, International Organization for Migration), Catholic Charities, and Catholic Relief Services provided support for refugees who were attempting to flee persecution, while groups such as CRIPDES (Comite Cristiano pro-Desplazados de El Salvador, Christian Committee for the Displaced of EI Salvador) and Tutela Legal denounced and publicized human rights violations. During this period, sanctuary congregations in the United States sometimes also became sister parishes of congregations in El Salvador, through the SHARE Foundation, which also organized delegations of visitors to war-torn communities. During the postwar period, as border enforcement in Mexico and the United States became more stringent and as deportations from the United States mounted, Maria Victoria de Aviles, the then-human rights ombudsperson in El Salvador, founded the Mesa Permanente sobre Migrantes y Poblacion Desarraigada (Permanent Board on Migrants and Uprooted Populations), which in turn developed into the Foro dei Migrante (Migrant Forum), and most recently, into the Mesa Permanente de la Procuraduria para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos para las Personas Migrantes (Permanent Board of the Ombudsry for the Defense of Human Rights for Migrant Peoples). (40) The composition of these coalitions has varied, but generally has included government, academic, religious, and community groups concerned about human rights and immigration. In addition, some solidarity organizations that were formed in the United States have founded their own counterparts in El Salvador. An example is CARECEN Internacional, located in San Salvador, which grew out of the network of CARECEN organizations in the United States. The opposite has also occurred, with the San Salvador office of the gang violence prevention group Homies Unidos giving rise to a Los Angeles office of the same group. (41)
These networks of civil society organizations in the United States and El Salvador have fostered the continued circulation of activists, scholars, students, and religious workers in El Salvador. Conferences, such as the Salvadorenos en el Mundo (Salvadorans in the World) or Semana dei Migrante (immigrant week) events, or meetings or workshops organized around a particular theme, regularly bring together scholars, students, and NGO members who work on or in E1 Salvador. NGOs in El Salvador collaborate with US students and researchers to collect data and issue reports, and with other US and Salvadoran NGOs to exchange information and develop strategies. The Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), CIS (Centro de Intercambio and Solidaridad, Center for Exchange and Solidarity), SHARE, and other groups continue to organize delegations to El Salvador. Hometown associations in the United States are also key components of this continued circulation, as they direct resources and knowledge from the United States to El Salvador and vice versa. (42) This continued circulation has given rise to a transnational civil society circuit, not unlike the transnational linkages that mobilized solidarity and sanctuary work in the United States during the 1980s. By directing resources, knowledge, labour, and particular products (including reports, testimonies, and expertise) to organizations and individuals, this circuit is critical to the continued mobilization of social justice work in El Salvador and in the United States. Moreover, political parties on both the left and right have taken notice of these thick social networks and the resources to which they have access, and have sought to work with these organizations, while setting up their own support networks in the United States. For instance, during the buildup to the 2009 Salvadoran presidential campaign, the FMLN and ARENA candidates have both visited several major US cities where Salvadorans are most concentrated, vying for the community's political and financial support. (43)
Conclusion. Coming Full Circle
The US-Central American sanctuary movement originally began as an attempt to draw attention to the unjust conditions in El Salvador, conditions that US foreign policy greatly exacerbated. The movement has now come full circle as campaigns by immigrant rights organizations in El Salvador have gone from advocating for the rights of refugees, to immigrants' rights, to the right not to migrate. This most recent focus is designed to call attention to unjust conditions within El Salvador, the dangerous nature of the trek to the United States, and the lack of rights accorded to unauthorized immigrants upon arrival. In El Salvador, immigrants' rights organizations, such as CARECEN Internacional, publicize the risks of migration, such as losing limbs while attempting to board a moving train or dying of thirst or suffocation while crossing a desert or hiding in a locked compartment of a vehicle. These groups also present forums to Salvadoran youth, warning them of the dangers of the journey and urging them to develop their own leadership, entrepreneurial, and job skills in El Salvador. Finally, such groups urge Salvadoran authorities to address the root causes of emigration. For example, the opening section of the Mesa Permanente's 2007 minimum platform on migrants' rights states:
In other words, the focus on the right not to migrate is intended to motivate individuals, communities, NGOs, and Salvadoran authorities to address the unjust underlying social, economic, and political conditions that give rise to emigration and thus prevent it, rather than focusing only on the human rights of migrants in transit or on migrants' legal rights in the United States. Such a move builds on earlier movement debates over the validity of the distinction between economic migrants and political refugees, debates that were muted by asylum law that focused on political persecution rather than economic need. The current refocusing, like solidarity and sanctuary work of the 1980s, is designed to promote peace and justice within El Salvador.
By revisiting the US-Central American sanctuary movement, we have sought to draw attention to the transnational nature of this movement and to the movement's long-term impact. Central Americans who were members of popular movements in El Salvador played key roles in mobilizing religious workers to develop sanctuary activities, yet, for strategic and cultural reasons, their role was not fully acknowledged during the 1980s. That is, Central Americans were publicly recognized as inspirations and examples to follow, but were not openly treated as political organizers of sanctuary activities within the United States. These framings of Central Americans as inspirations and examples emphasized the religious and humanitarian nature of the movement in contrast to US authorities' attempts to discredit sanctuary as a purely political activity. The framing of Central Americans as refugees, as innocent victims in need of aid, furthered the notion that Central Americans were beneficiaries rather than protagonists in the movement. In noting how Central American activists mobilized sanctuary and solidarity work as part of a broader effort to oppose the Salvadoran government during the civil conflict, we do not mean to suggest that movement members deliberately misled anyone, or that Central Americans themselves concealed their roles from North Americans. Rather, we draw attention to the ways that historical, political, and social contexts shape what can be said and known, and the fact that with hindsight, relationships and actions that were once concealed, perhaps even from their authors, become apparent.
Hindsight also makes it possible to assess the unintended consequences of social movements. Social movement theory draws attention to the strategic goals that movements pursue, and to the factors, such as political opportunities, resources, and successful framing, that permit movement members to achieve these goals. Moreover, recent work by David Meyer has found that taking credit for achieving desirable outcomes is an important part of politics, especially for social movements. He argues that claiming credit is analogous to establishing a reputation and shows that some contextual factors allow some movement actors to be better positioned to promote a narrative of their own influence than others. (45) As we've shown in this study, Salvadoran activists were precluded from fully claiming credit for their roles in the sanctuary movement by the very refugee identity that the movement used to effectively frame the issue. Unfortunately, some of the scholarly work on the Central American sanctuary movement has also been analytically constrained by this refugee frame and thus inadvertently reinforced Central American immigrant activists' inability to claim credit for their roles in the movement. (46)
We have also sought to identify the unintended consequences of pursuing strategic goals. Sanctuary workers and Central American activists set out to oppose human rights abuses in El Salvador and Guatemala, curtail US intervention in Central America, obtain asylum for persecution victims who had fled to the United States, promote the legitimacy of the popular struggle (by countering Reagan and Bush administration claims that the insurgency was instigated by the Soviet Union or that it was a puppet of international communism) and provide protection to Salvadoran and Guatemalan communities that were at risk of military violence. Movement actors did not, at the rime, envision that Central Americans would be filing suspension or cancellation claims (as provided by NACARA), that Congress would create Temporary Protected Status, that their work would contribute to remittance flows, that they would play a key role in creating a transnational network of civil society organizations, or that such organizations would foster the continued circulation of activists and others between the United States and El Salvador. Such outcomes were byproducts of the movement, perhaps means to an end, rather than explicit goals and, of course, are not wholly attributable to the movement itself. Nonetheless, theory that treats social movements primarily as instrumental action, even while acknowledging the symbolic components (such as "framing") of such action, has a difficult time explaining movements' unintended consequences.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for this special issue, we hope to stress the particularity of sanctuary activities. In some ways, in California and Arizona at least, the US-Central American sanctuary movement of the 1980s was not about immigration at all, but rather sought to address social injustice in Central American nations, US intervention in Central America, and the effects of political violence on individuals and communities. Although sanctuary, as currently carried out in Canada, Europe, and the United States, may bear formal similarity to US-Central American sanctuary practices of the 1980s, it might be wise to pay attention to the specificity of the particular immigration flows that give rise to sanctuary in particular social and historical contexts, whether these be local, national, or regional. Why are some individuals granted sanctuary while others are not? What particular laws or policies are sanctuary practices designed to address? And are sanctuary practices geared primarily toward a local or national context or do they also seek to intervene in transnational relationships and conditions? Addressing these questions will enrich scholarship on sanctuary in its many manifestations.
(1.) Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, God's Heart Has No Borders: How Religious Activists Are Working for Immigrant Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Randy K. Lippert, Sanctuary, Sovereignty, Sacrifice: Canadian Sanctuary Incidents, Power, and Law (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005); Miriam Ticktin, "Between Justice and Compassion: 'Les Sans Papiers' and the Political Economy of Health, Human Rights and Humanitarianism in France" (Ph.D. dissertation in cultural and social anthropology, Stanford University, 2002).
(2.) Lippert, Sanctuary, Sovereignty, Sacrifice; also Randy K. Lippert, "Rethinking Sanctuary: The Canadian Context, 1983-2003" International Migration Review 39, no. 2 (2005): 381-406.
(3.) Lippert, Sanctuary, Sovereignty, Sacrifice; Lippert, "Rethinking Sanctuary."
(4.) Hector Perla, "Revolutionary Deterrence: The Sandinista Response to Reagan's Coercive Policy against Nicaragua, Lessons toward a Theory of Asymmetric Conflict" (doctoral dissertation in political science, UCLA, 2005); Hector Perla, "Si Nicaragua Vencio, El Salvador Vencera: Central American Agency in the Creation of the U.S.-Central American Peace & Solidarity Movement," Latin American Research Review 43, no. 2 (2008): 136-158; Hector Perla, "Heirs of Sandino: The Nicaraguan Revolution and the U.S.-Nicaragua Solidarity Movement" Latin American Perspectives 36, no. 6 (2009); Hector Perla, "Explaining When the Public Supports the Use of Military Force Abroad: Reference Point Framing and Prospective Decision Making," International Organization (forthcoming).
(5.) Susan Bibler Coutin, The Culture of Protest: Religious Activism and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993).
(6.) Susan Bibler Coutin, Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants' Struggle for U.S. Residency (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000); Susan Bibler Coutin, Nations of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in El Salvador and the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007).
(7.) "Leverage politics" refers to "the ability to call upon powerful actors to affect a situation where weaker members of a network are unlikely to have influence." "Accountability politics" refers to "the ability to hold powerful actors to their previously stated policies or principles" Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists beyond Borders (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 16.
(8.) Charles Brockett, Political Movements and Violence in Central America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Tommie Sue Montgomery, Revolution in El Salvador: From Civil Strife to Civil Peace (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995).
(9.) Michael Jones-Correa, Luis R. Fraga, John A. Garcia, Rodney E. Hero, Valerie Martinez-Ebers, and Gary M. Segura, "Redefining America: Findings from the 2006 Latino National Survey" 2006,
(10.) Cecilia Menjivar, Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).
(11.) Hugh Byrne, El Salvador's Civil War: A Study of Revolution (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1996), 115.
(12.) Andrade-Eekhoff. The US census is known to underestimate immigrant and minority populations. Other sources estimate the Salvadoran population in the United States during the 1980s as closer to 900,000. See Sergio Aguayo and Patricia Weiss Fagen, Central Americans in Mexico and the United States: Unilateral, Bilateral, and Regional Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, Center for Immigration Policy and Refugee Assistance, 1988); Segundo Montes Mozo and Juan Jose Garcia Vasquez, Salvadoran Migration to the United States: An Exploratory Study (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, Center for Immigration Policy and Refugee Assistance, Hemispheric Migration Project, 1988); Patricia Ruggles, Michael Fix, and Kathleen M. Thomas, Profile of the Central American Population in the United States (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 1985).
(13.) Patricia Ruggles and Michael Fix, Impacts and Potential Impacts of Central American Migrants on Health and Human Services and Related Programs of Assistance (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1985), 30.
(14.) Montes Mozo and Garcia Vasquez, 8.
(16.) Bradley Graham, "Public Honors for Secret Combat; Medals Granted after Acknowledgment of US Role in El Salvador," Washington Post, May 6, 1996, AI.
(17.) Note as well that participating sanctuary congregations also drew on their own histories of involvement in refugee issues and in social justice work, such as the freedom rides of the US civil rights movement, refugee resettlement programs, and giving shelter to draft dodgers and AWOL US soldiers during the Vietnam War. See Coutin, Culture of Protest, for further details.
(18.) Perla, "Si Nicaragua vencio."
(19.) Felix Kury, founder of Salvadorenos Progresistas, interview with Hector Perla, February 2007.
(20.) Jose Artiga, former director of Casa El Salvador-Farabundo Marti, interview with Hector Perla, February 2007. CARECEN was originally called the Central American Refugee Center (Centro de Refugiados Centroamericanos), but it changed its name following the end of the Civil War.
(21.) Felix Kury.
(22.) "El Rescate's 20 Years of Aid and Advocacy," El Rescate homepage,
(23.) Nora Hamilton and Norma Stoltz Chinchilla, Seeking Community in a Global City: Guatemalans and Salvadorans in Los Angeles (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).
(24.) Coutin, Culture of Protest.
(25.) Ibid., and Hondagneu-Sotelo.
(26.) Coutin, Culture of Protest, 18.
(27.) See also Lippert, Sanctuary, Sovereignty, Sacrifice
(28.) Coutin, Culture of Protest, 120.
(29.) There were also other spaces among the most trusted sanctuary activists, or within the broader peace and solidarity movement, such as CISPES, Comite Farabundo Marti, Salvadorenos Progresistas, and MASPS meetings or events, where the refugee identity could be moved to the background by the Central Americans in favour of a more empowered or militant persona.
(30.) Eight of the eleven defendants were convicted in 1986. For an account of this trial, see Susan Bibler Coutin, "Smugglers or Samaritans in Tucson, Arizona: Producing and Contesting Legal Truth," American Ethnologist 22, no. 3 (1995): 549-571.
(31.) Robert Rubin, "Ten Years After: Vindication for Salvadorans and New Promises for Safe Haven and Refugee Protection" Interpreter Releases 68, no. 4 (1991): 97-109.
(32.) Bryan P. Christian, Program Manager, ABC-NACARA, Asylum Division, Office of Refugee, Asylum and
International Operations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, personal communication, March 1, 2004.
(33.) Leisy Janet Abrego, "Barely Subsisting, Surviving, or Thriving: How Parents' Legai Status and Gender Shape the Economic and Emotional Well-Being of Salvadoran Transnational Families" (doctoral dissertation in sociology, UCLA, 2008).
(34.) "Ingresos mensuales en concepto de remesas familiares" BCR (Banco Central de Reserva) homepage,
(35.) PNUD (Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo), Informe sobre desarrollo humano, El Salvador: Una mirada ai nuevo nosotros (San Salvador: PNUD, 2005).
(37.) Tim Weiner, "U.S.-Backed Rightist Claims Victory in Salvador Election," New York Times, 22 March, 2004,
(38.) Coutin, Nations of Emigrants, 93-94.
(39.) Nicole Gaouette, "Tip-offs Dilute Surprise of ICE Raids," Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2008, A18.
(40.) "Permanent Board" is an imperfect translation of "Mesa Permanente," which implies something more akin to a "working group" than a board.
(41.) Elana Zilberg, Transnational Geographies of Violence: An Inter-American Encounter from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming).
(42.) D. Pederson, "The Storm We Call Dollars: Determining Value and Belief in El Salvador and the United States;' Cultural Anthropology 17, no. 3 (2002): 431-459; see also Eric Popkin, "Guatemalan Mayan Migration to Los Angeles: Constructing Transnational Linkages in the Context of the Settlement Process" Ethnic and Racial Studies 22, no. 2 (1999): 267-89.
(43.) For ARENA candidate Rodrigo Avila, see "Avila agradece al 8 Sector por apoyo recibido," Rodrigo Presidente Webpage,
(44.) Mesa Permanente de la Procuraduria para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos paralas Personas Migrantes, Plataforma Minima de los Derechos de las Personas Migrantes (San Salvador: Procuraduria para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, 2007), 17.
(45.) David Meyer, "Claiming Credit: Stories of Movement Influence as Outcomes," Mobilization: An International Journal 11, no. 3 (2006): 201-229.
(46.) Perla, "Si Nicaragua Vencio"; and Coutin, Culture of Protest.
Hector Perla Jr. is an assistant professor of Latin American studies and Latino studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His interests range from IR theory, US-Latin American relations, Latin American politics, asymmetric conflicts, and transnational social movements to public diplomacy, media and public opinion, US foreign policy formation, Latino politics, and political psychology.
Susan Bibler Coutin is a professor of anthropology and of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, where she also directs the Center in Law, Society and Culture. She is currently conducting research regarding the relationships that 1.5 generation Salvadorans develop with their countries of origin and residence.
The authors thank Sean Rehaag and Randy Lippert, the participants in the sanctuary panel at the US and the Canadian Law and Society Associations' joint meeting in Montreal in 2008, and the many organizations and individuals that provided us with information and assistance. Susan Coutin acknowledges the following funding agencies: American Association of University Women, the National Science Foundation's Law and Social Science Program (SBR-9423023, SES-0001890 and SES-0296050, and SES-0518011), and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Hector Perla Jr. acknowledges the support of the Ohio University Baker Fund Award, and the University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, as well as the Committee on Research's Faculty Research Grant, and the Chicano Latino Research Center's Individual Faculty Grant from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Very early in the 80s, the different tendencies from El Salvador then began to develop their projects. And this is nothing that people were critical about. It was very natural for the political entities in El Salvador to come here and organize among their own companeros, companeras, their comrades they felt comfortable with. So certain agencies grew up [that were] identified with one of the five armies of the FMLN. We collaborated over ending U.S. military intervention, to end all military aid to El Salvador. Ali groups agreed on that point of unity. So it was easy to collaborate with all. The second [point] was direct political support to the FMLN and political and economic material support to the popular movement. And sending delegations and mobilizing U.S. citizens to oppose intervention, and those who were able to make the next step to declare their solidarity with the struggle in El Salvador. But many CISPES activists, many North Americans, were anti-interventionists, but never took the step toward solidarity. If we once took them to El Salvador and got them in El Salvador to meet the Salvadoreans, to see the struggle, especially during the war, when it was a very dramatic experience, often they would become solidarity activists, raise money for the popular movement.
This is where I feel that the Salvadorans' role is very important, sometimes making the invitation, sometimes giving their blessing [through their testimonies]. The invitation was really important because people after a presentation or after becoming aware of the situation would have a really bad feeling and you'd say it's your tax dollars that are financing these human rights violations and the question they would ask is what can I do? And here is where with lots of creativity we had a menu of things that people could do ... join CISPES, sanctuary, support refugees.
Our goal was to create more organizations, to create more chapters (contacts) ... not among the Salvadorans, if they were there we'd organize them, but more than anything the larger focus was the North Americans ... so that they would be part of something [solidarity or peace organizations]. Then parallel to that was formed the sanctuary churches. That was a different group of people ... who took that and gave it its own life ... This menu of activities also included a range of political pressure, which included participating in a vigil to participating in civil disobedience ... I remember that in Philadelphia, we asked the sanctuary churches to go to the house of Senator Specter after Sunday services ... they would hold vigils directly in front of his house and even if they were not large, bur with 10 people in front of his home they made him uncomfortable.
I organized networks of lawyers in big law firms to provide assistance in political asylum cases, or pro bono cases. That's sort of the Lawyers Committee's mode of operation. They organize big law firms and their lawyers to do free work on big civil rights matters. Or small civil rights matters. It's a way of organizing networks.... And I, in addition to organizing legal work and volunteer representation also organized teams of policy people from different organizations to look at big policy questions.... Now, that work in the Lawyers Committee, in my own mind at least, accomplished a couple of things. In addition to the work we actually did, it became the model for lawyers committees and the rights offices around the country. So, Robert Rubin's operation in San Francisco, Public Counsel's immigration work in LA, the Immigrant, Rights Projects of the Lawyers' Committees in Boston and Chicago all were kind of modeled on what I started here in Washington.... [And,] this political work I was doing at the Lawyersi Committee, as opposed to the legal work, was the foundation for the National Immigration Forum.
Salvadoran migration, like that of so many other Latin American countries, is the ultimate choice of thousands of compatriots faced with a context of serious violations of their human rights, especially their economic, social, and cultural rights.... The current reality of the Salvadoran state, characterized by economic inequalities, lack of work, low salaries, constant increases in the cost of living, and the lack of educational opportunities, leads thousands of Salvadoran men and women to chose to migrate to a country that will allow them to find and satisfy those living conditions that El Salvador neither afforded them nor permitted them to achieve. (44)
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