In the 1980s, the United States experienced a refugee crisis. Thousands of Central Americans were fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling north through Mexico, and crossing the border into the U.S. [Note: Just tuning in? Listen to the previous episode.]
In response to this mass migration, a network of churches across the country declared themselves “sanctuaries,” offering shelter to Central Americans who were threatened with deportation and in some cases helping to smuggle people across the border. Leaders and members of these sanctuary churches believed they had a religious imperative to help people fleeing persecution.
The government, however, wasn’t swayed by the religious motivations of participating churches. In 1984, the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), a predecessor to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), launched a full-scale investigation into the sanctuary movement.