Sanctuary: Defending the Vulnerable and Challenging the State from the Nineteenth Century until the Present

Haitian activists in Miami protest the death of asylum seeker Turenne Deville in a Florida detention center. 1974. Haiti Refugee Collection. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.  Used with permission.  

This session will take place at the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting | Conference on American History in Washington, D.C. Read the full abstract and speaker information here.

We hope those attending our session on sanctuary will take away a better understanding of the diverse origins of today’s migrant rights formations which are self-described as "Sanctuary Movement(s)." Attendees will learn some of the many ways that individuals and groups (sometimes in the form of movements) have sought to defend vulnerable people, be they fugitive slaves, migrants, foreign-born students, refugees, or asylum seekers, and how these activists have contended with the power of the state. The panel will plumb the deep roots of today’s struggle between Sanctuary Movement activists and the U.S. government--and sometimes, activists’ mutual cooperation with local governments--and explore how today’s movements are part of a much longer history of freedom movements in the United States and beyond. Emanating from faith communities in the 1980s, the Sanctuary Movement drew on a wide range of secular as well as faith-based activism. Today, the movement offers a broad response to the depredations of white supremacy.

Each of the papers in this session shed new light on the relationship between past and present migrant activism and advocacy. Rachel Ida Buff will explore two antecedents for contemporary migrant sanctuary mobilizations from two distinct historical moments: the implementation of the second Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 and the McCarthyist deportations of foreign born radicals after World War II. Yael Schacher will discuss whether and how US universities were sanctuaries for foreign students from Nigeria, Iran and Mexico at moments of particular “crisis” from the 1960s to the 1980s, highlighting especially the human stories and needs of students dealing with upheaval in their home countries and anti-foreign sentiment in the United States. Carl Lindskoog will examine the relationship between U.S. foreign policy in Central America in the 1980s and the Reagan administration’s campaign against the Sanctuary and Central American solidarity movements, documenting how the government’s campaign against these domestic movements was an extension of its policy of counter-revolution in Central America. And David Hernández will explore the contemporary asylum "crisis" in relation to previous "crises," recurring strategies of family detention, and civic and communal provision of sanctuary, illustrating how the reluctant reception of refugees and asylum seekers dictates the parochial reliance on the detention regime. Bringing together insights into four under-studied moments in immigration history, the panel will demonstrate the complexity of twentieth century migrant mobilizations and will encourage attendees to consider how current immigration debates are opening up new questions about the past, just as new scholarship is providing essential context for today’s debates.

Posted: December 26, 2019
Tagged: Conference, Previews, Advocacy, Race