Spring/Summer 1988, Volume 5.1

Sanctuary, Basic Rights, and Humanity's Fault Lines: *

A Personal Essay

During the last six years, sanctuary for refugees has become institutionally established in the United States. It is institutionally established in the sense that there is no question that faith communities will continue to provide sanctuary whenever refugees need protection from government officials, that many of these communities consider sanctuary to be an essential part of what it means for the church to be the church, and that the government's use of its police powers to prevent the practice of sanctuary will, instead, stimulate its growth.

The sanctuary movement has been around for more than 3,000 years, but its emerging institutional form is an adaptation to current conditions. The process has its own dynamics and is under no one's control. Misunderstood as a plan or strategy, my reflections on this adaptive process could lead you to think that those of us who are sometimes said to be the sanctuary movement's initiators knew what we were doing and where we were going. Sanctuary for Central American refugees actually began as a day-to-day response to arriving refugees. None of us realized what we were getting into.

In April1981, I knew and cared little about Central America. For example, I could not have named the archbishop who had been murdered the year before in El Salvador. I did know quite a bit about the borderlands between New Mexico and Organpipe, south to Huachinera and the Yaqui River, having ranched, cowboyed, horse traded, worked for both the Forest Service and the Park Service, and guided student groups in the area, but I took the fence for granted and had never been particularly interested in border problems. The only time I had ever gone over the fence was to stop a grass fire in Mexico that threatened the Coronado National Memorial.

On 4 May 1981, I heard about a Salvadoran refugee who had been

caught by the Border Patrol. The following day I went looking for him. The day after that, having learned that refugees were pouring across the border but were being caught and returned by federal officials, my wife Pat and I set up an apartment for them in our home. It was soon jammed full. Assuming that life-and-death crises of this kind are always short-term emergencies, we held nothing in reserve, but in the course of the next few months we began to realize, as our energy and resources dwindled, that the emergency was chronic and the crisis in Central America may be no more than the beginning. Similar experiences were occurring in churches and homes throughout Mexico and along the length of the border.

When Central Americans are desperate, they usually go to a church. In Mexico and along the border, parish priests, church secretaries, sacristans, catechists--all who spent much time at a church--were likely to be asked for help, and the help the refugees needed was, above all, protection from capture by government officials. Father Quiñones of the Santuario Guadalupano initiated efforts to help the refugees in Nogales, Mexico. In Tucson, it was Father Ricardo Elford, pastor to the Yaquis of Old Pascua.

As church workers met refugees and learned why they were fleeing El Salvador and Guatemala, they also began reaching out to them and offering them shelter in their homes. On Mexico's other border, on the slopes of Mount Tacaná, I once asked a catechist who had a large family but was sharing his small home with an equally large Guatemalan family, why so many of the people on Tacaná had opened their doors to refugees, while down below, on the coastal plain around Tapachula, people called them illegals and rarely took them in. "Down there," he explained, "they're too rich to afford it."

That isn't the complete truth, but it contains an important kernel of truth. In Tucson, when my wife Pat and I discovered that we could not afford to continue using our home as an emergency shelter for arriving refugees, it was a small church in one of Tucson's poorest barrios, Southside Presbyterian Church, that agreed to do it. Southside has no fancy rugs, bejewelled crosses, or other valuables that the refugees might ruin or steal. It started as a mission to the Papagos (who prefer to be called Tohono O'Odham) and it now has a congregation of about 150 members who are Hispanic, Anglo, Black, and Tohono O'Odham.

Until I set out to look for that Salvadoran refugee, I knew no clergy and next to nothing about organized religion. I had grown up in Wyoming, with an outlook that could be characterized as pagan redneck. In my late twenties, though, I had turned Quaker--which involved a change of direction rather than a change of beliefs. When I learned what was happening to the refugees, the Quaker network was the only one I knew that would be capable of a nationwide response, so I began alerting Quaker meetings. Here is some of what I wrote on 12 May 1981 and mailed out to about 500 meetings and individual Quakers throughout the United States:

. . . If Central American refugees' rights to political asylum are decisively rejected by the U.S. government or if the U.S. legal system insists on ransom that exceeds our ability to pay, active resistance will be the only alternative to abandoning the refugees to their fate. The creation of a network of actively concerned, mutually supportive people in the U.S. and Mexico may be the best preparation for an adequate response. (Letter)

A refugee support network began to appear even where no refugees had yet arrived, and relays formed to help them reach any part of the United States or Canada. John Fife, the pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church, had a good deal to do with informing and mobilizing Presbyterians nationwide to provide most of the initial communications and material support. Quakers tended to do much of the relaying. The sancutary network was really already established and ready to serve, in every denomination that became involved, and existing interfaith associations helped link the denominational networks. It was simply the church being the church, but it soon became a recombinant "church" beyond the fullest ecumenical sense of the term. (Our language has no word for the community of faith communities that has emerged as we have joined to provide sanctuary.)

As it turned out, though, during those first weeks of network development, the group that was most involved in helping refugees arrive safely in Tucson was not a religious organization but a goat-milking cooperative. We called ourselves "Los Cabreros Andantes," which is a multiple play on words that indicates a recognition of our kinship to the archetypical caballero andante, Don Quixote de la Mancha. We had just completed a three-year exchange with semi-nomadic goat ranchers in the Baja peninsula, adapting bucks capable of siring more productive does to the range and herds between Mulege and La Purisima. Here is how we understood this exchange, as I had written about it in 1979 for The Dairy Goat Journal in an article on the goat cheese economy of the South Baja sierras:

There is another kind of economic development that is an aspect of community growth rather than political subjugation or technocratic alienation. Most of the time, most of us love life; we want to meet and know others--other people, animals, plants, lands--and, regardless of mixed motives, we care about those we come to know. Meeting, knowing, and caring, we cultivate symbiotic bonds that enhance the harmony, diversity, and beauty of life on earth. As symbiotics, economic development is the active expression of our love of life; it is human cultivation of the inclusive community that has sometimes been called "the peaceable kingdom." As symbiotics, economic development is concerned with our learning to live in peace, at home on earth.

(The Dairy Goat Journal August 1979:32)

Los Cabreros Andantes is not a religious community, but the group does resemble other sanctuary faith communities in its focus on "human cultivation of the inclusive community that has sometimes been called 'the peaceable kingdom.'" Let me assign the word religio to it. Religio, the Latin word from which the word "religion" is derived is usually traced etymologically to the same source as the words such as "ligament"--the idea of binding together. Religio refers to the binding together of human beings into communities, but I take this limitation to the human to be a matter of focus rather than separability. Treating the place of humankind within nature as though we were a state within a state leads, as Spinoza observed, to endless absurdities and pathological maladaptation.

As related to human association, religio is manifested as the civil condition. Religio and civility are, respectively, the active and passive aspects of human bonding into a people. As the Greeks understood it, civil association--the polis--consists of those people who constitute one body in the sense that they settle their disputes through persuasion rather than warfare. Religion translates this condition into communion characterized by love, and politics translates it into solidarity characterized by a common enemy, but as civil association it means that, no matter how thoroughly we come to despise one another or to pursue irreconcilable goals, we will not resolve our differences by means of violence.

As civility, sanctuary revises the way Europeans have understood the relation of religio to the state, government, politics, and civil society during the last four centuries. We are accustomed to thinking of the nation-state as the political form that contains civil association.

Unless we live here in the borderlands. Here, those our government calls aliens are often people we know as family, friends, fellow communicants, co-workers. Here, we see daily that there is an inconsistency between our civil society's constituting principles and our government's routine practice, an inconsistency that is as glaring as the declaration by slave owners of the inalienable human right to liberty. As formulated in the Dred Scott decision, the issue is actually the same for both slaves and aliens--that is, whether basic rights to life, liberty, and dignity are established by one's humanity or one's citizenship. The reason that Dred Scott could, in the words of Chief Justice Taney, be "bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made of it," was that the Supreme Court considered blacks to be aliens imported into the body politic.1

With respect to basic rights to life, liberty, and dignity, the U.S.-Mexican border is a fault line in humanity that represents more than a division between nations. It separates what have come to be conceived as two different worlds, the First World and the Third World. If the observance of basic human rights becomes institutionally rooted in the borderlands, these worlds will merge. They will merge because this country we call "the borderlands" is not a place between two worlds but is defined by the fault line that is its heartland. It has no outer boundaries.

The fault line is created by conditions that may lead to a radical fissure rather than fusion. In contrast to efforts (in the name of universal human rights) to extend civil association beyond national boundaries, the national security state internalizes the rule of war that prevails among nations. In the name of national security, it overrides constitutional restraints that are essential to civil association and the rule of law. The fact is, whether we consider civility or friend-enemy divisions, national boundaries no longer serve very well to segregate the rule of law from the rule of war.

In addition to overriding citizens' basic liberties, the national security state's displacement of the rule of law with the rule of war means this country we call the borderlands may turn out to be a society of masters and slaves. Subordinating human rights to the national interest as seen through a rigid friend-enemy ideology creates an underclass of people who are below the law.

This has the ring of hyperbole, so I'll illustrate.

Here in Texas, I once tried to comfort a woman who had been raped and then sold to be used as a prostitute. At the risk of being knifed by the man who bought and imprisoned her, local citizens had helped her escape. At the risk of being prosecuted by the federal government, we then saw to it that she reached her family in Los Angeles.

A few blocks from my home in Tucson, I once spent the small hours of the night searching for accident victims who were hiding from ambulance attendants and police. When I found them, I then had to locate doctors who would set their broken bones without informing the police.

In Los Angeles, Central American refugees avoid settling in the predominantly Spanish-speaking areas of East L.A. because street gangs that recognize their accent know they can be robbed and raped at will, with little risk that they will inform the authorities. Even where the local government declares sanctuary, which means that undocumented refugees can safely contact the police or other emergency services, they live in constant fear that someone will report them directly to the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service]. Anyone can exploit this fear. They are below the law because little that could happen to them would be worse than capture.

Undocumented refugees in the United States form a significant portion of an underclass that is below the law. Increasingly, the undocumented poor are politically-targeted refugees, a social class that is systematically subjected to the violation of basic rights to life, liberty, and dignity. For example, Time quotes Regional Immigration Commissioner Harold Ezell as telling the immigration officers under his supervision that they shouldn't just throw back the "illegals" they catch. "If you catch 'em, you ought to clean 'em and fry 'em yourself" ("Immigration's Happy Warrior" 23). This saying has been around ever since some Border Patrolman noticed that catching people and putting them back on the other side of the fence fails to prevent them from trying until they get through. In the past, Border Patrol agents adjusted by learning to think of their job as a game, no more absurd than running back and forth on a football field. But it is now taking on a new seriousness as the national security state insists this is no game but a form of war: The control and integrity of our borders is at stake; the undocumented poor are invaders; the border is a frontline that must be militarized.

The 1986 Immigration Act increases the stakes, pushing un-documented workers more definitively below the law, making them the property as well as the prey of coyotes who link their need for employment to the market for their labor. The Act creates a niche for coyote labor subcontractors who risk prosecution in return for the much greater bite they can now take from workers's earnings. Whenever a worker is below the law, the relation of subjugation-and-dependency between employer and worker is clearly that of master to slave. This is, in fact, the definition of slavery, as formulated by the ancient Greeks and reaffirmed in the Dred Scott decision: Slaves are persons within the body politic who are not protected from arbitrary detention, assault, and exploitation.2

Even the slave owners among the Founding Fathers saw that slavery is incompatible with the integrity of a civil society that is founded on the recognition of universal human rights to life and liberty. But the challenge that the recognition of universal human rights poses for the sovereignty of the nation-state remained unarticulated until the Nuremberg Tribunal ruled that everyone is obliged to obey international law mandating the protection of those whose rights are violated, particularly when one's own government is the violator, and even if one's government has failed to codify or ratify these rights.3

The confederation of nation-states into a world state has sometimes been suggested as the logical way to achieve a worldwide rule of law. This suggestion ignores the fact that the state itself is the primary threat to the rule of law. Also, the state's coercive powers may be necessary to hold civil society together, but they are effective only when considerable social cohesion is already the norm.

Civil initiative to comply with laws that officials are violating puts a government's legitimacy in question, and governments are no more likely now than before Nuremberg to bring themselves to trial for violating human rights. Government officials will insist that sustained civil initiative is always unnecessary and is therefore criminal behavior--that it is "civil disobedience" at best. Even those who engage in civil initiative often assume it is civil disobedience. Conceptually, this confusion is the primary obstacle to the maturing of civil initiative into a fully functional, constitutionally integrated institution for the protection of human rights.

Even when civil disobedience assumes some of the functions of civil initiative, it is conceived in terms of opposition to unjust laws rather than compliance with supreme laws of the land that mandate the protection of basic rights. In its Gandhian form, its accountability to the legal order is close to that of civil initiative. The most notable distinction is that Gandhi's indifference to legal defense would forfeit the very laws civil initiative attempts to preserve. But, having evolved to overturn laws or even topple governments, civil disobedience is maladapted to serve as a surrogate for civil initiative. Much that would be appropriate as civil disobedience to nullify unjust laws tends to destroy the very laws that civil initiative strives to preserve. Much that would be reasonable as a pre-revolutionary strategy to overthrow the legal order would be irrational as a practice for extending the rule of law. Indiscriminately fused with civil disobedience, civil initiative would become do-gooder vigilantism.

Civil initiative means doing justice, not just resisting injustice. This usually requires that we assume governmental functions on an emergency basis. For example, if the Immigration and Naturalization Service is violating refugees' rights to safe haven, civil initiative to comply with laws that mandate the protection of refugees will involve deciding who enters and who stays in the United States.

This problem's premise is stated as follows by John Locke:

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where that rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to any inconstant, uncertain, arbitrary will of another man. [Second Treatise : sec. 22]

Civil initiative to protect refugees from government officials substitutes the will of persons complying with human rights law for the will of those who have been designated by our government to decide who enters and stays in the United States. In the absence of rigorous efforts to establish full accountability, this would subject the members of our society to the inconstant, uncertain, arbitrary will of anyone who decides refugees' rights are being violated.

John Locke had an easy answer: the right to revolution. When a government betrays its trust, just shatter civil society and start over. Revolution may have been an easy answer for John Locke and Thomas Jefferson because they thought more in terms of a revolutionary coup d'etat than civil war. It may seem even easier to veterans of the Sixties who think in terms of street theater. After meeting thousands of victims of civil war over the course of the last seven years, I have come to feel a deep respect for the humanity as well as the realism of Thomas Hobbes. Few disasters are worse than the shattering of civil society.

In any case, if we are to extend rather than abandon the rule of law, the easy answers are an evasion. The right to revolt is as irrelevant as the right to lobby. When the life and liberty of human beings are at stake, the situation calls for the protection of those who are being violated--not the overthrow of constitutional government and not the passing of still more laws in hopes that officials will begin complying with them.

The accountability of civil initiative is to the rule of law rather than to government officials. It must be tailored accordingly. For example, sanctuary for Central Americans in the United States has taken a form that would not fit the circumstances that prevailed under the Third Reich. When a Hitler or Stalin destroys a society's legal order, only a residual rule of law may remain in the church or other institutions. Accountability may then become correspondingly limited. Apart from extremes of this kind, the extent to which a government has displaced the rule of law with the rule of war will be debatable and often murky, so there is no absolute or conclusive formulation of the way to tailor sanctuary as civil initiative, even when addressing a specific historical situation such as sanctuary in the United States for Central American refugees.

But there are definitive characteristics of civil initiative. The civil order's formative conditions guide civil initiative, under circumstances in which obeying the law means disobeying government officials. These formative conditions are generated by the priority of guidance by principle over management by objective. Goal-independent nonviolence is the most pervasive characteristic of civility, just as goal-directed violence is the most pervasive characteristic of politico-military organization. Protecting human rights by means that are violent, deceptive, partisan, or symbolic may or may not be effective in achieving the desired end, but they are vigilantism, warfare, rebellion, factional politics, or street theater rather than civil initiative.

Sanctuary for Central American refugees is civil initiative to comply with national and international laws that federal officials are violating. Among these laws are the 1949 Geneva Conventions on War and War Victims, the 1967 U.N. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1968), and the 1980 Refugee Act. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies asylum from persecution as a basic right of all persons--which, in light of Nuremberg, means that civil initiative to protect those among us whose right to asylum is violated would be our specified lawful duty, even if our government had failed to codify this right as positive law. In addition, Anglo-American common law has always held that, when the letter of the law conflicts with an urgent need to save life or prevent serious injury, choosing life over the written legal code is lawful and sometimes obligatory.

The position of the Reagan administration has been formulated by Elliot Abrams as follows: "Legally and morally, the distinction between economic migrants and political refugees matters greatly. The United States is legally obligated and morally bound to protect refugees but not to accept for permanent residence every illegal immigrant who reaches our shores" ("U.S. Refugee Policy . . . "). In other words, the Reagan administration concedes that it would be in violation of the law if it were deporting refugees rather than illegal immigrants. By law, a refugee is not an illegal immigrant, has a right to be here until safe haven is found elsewhere, and under no circumstances is to be returned to a country where he or she has reason to fear persecution. The question then is whether any Central Americans who are being returned by the Reagan administration are refugees rather than illegal immigrants. Elliot Abrams says that Salvadorans and Guatemalans are coming here just to look for jobs and that they can be safely returned without fear of persecution because their countries are democracies. If we were talking about events on the other side of the earth, these State Department claims might merit futher consideration. But victims of torture and survivors of free-fire massacres are right here among us, and more arrive regularly. Therapy for torture vicitms is now a social service need in Tucson and elsewhere in the United States.

In Orantes v. Immigration Service, Ninth Circuit Court Judge Kenyon found that in its treatment of Salvadorans the INS "engages in widespread illegality, so widespread that it is not a matter of individual misconduct but a broad systematic process." In Immigration Service v. Cardoza-Fonseca, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 9 this year [1987] that the INS interpretation of the 1980 Refugee Act has been, as Justice Blackmun put it, "strikingly contrary to plain language and legislative history." Blackmun went on to observe that, with one exception, the appellate courts have uniformly rejected the INS misreading of the Refugee Act's statutory language and legislative history, but these court rulings, "it is sad to say, alone cannot make up for . . . the years of purposeful blindness by the INS . . . ."

The 1980 Refugee Act implemented the 1967 U.N. Refugee Protocol, which President Johnson explained as follows when he sent it to the Senate for ratification: "Foremost among the humanitarian rights which the Protocol provides is the prohibition against expulsion or return of refugees to any country in which they would face persecution" (Public Papers [of LBJ], '68-'69; II:869; GPO). The 1949 Geneva Conventions on War and War Victims establish the refugee status of persons who may not be personally targeted for persecution but are fleeing life-threatening conditions caused by war.4 In the United States, the administrative mechanism for meeting our Geneva Convention obligations is a halt to deportations until the refugees can safely return, which the INS calls "extended voluntary departure." Everyday language and common law also recognize that people may sometimes be refugees from other life-threatening conditions, such as famine. Whether fellow human beings are Protocol refugees, Geneva Convention refugees, or forced to seek refuge from situations other than persecution and war, returning them to life-threatening conditions is always a violation of basic human rights. Yet, the categories created by positive law influence the practice of sanctuary, since the defense of codified human rights laws is an essential aspect of civil initiative. This is illustrated by the current procedures for providing sanctuary services in Tucson.

The Tucson refugee support group (Trsg) helps refugees avoid capture who run a high risk of being killed, tortured, or imprisoned if returned, who cannot safely stay in Mexico, and whose right to refuge is being violated by government officials. Spouses and dependents of these refugees also qualify for Trsg assistance. This is primarily aid to avoid capture by the Border Patrol as refugees travel through the border area to Tucson. Direct assistance is extended to all Protocol Refugees who arrive on the Arizona-Sonora border and who cannot safely stay where they are. Some Geneva Convention refugees, such as those from free-fire zones, also meet the Trsg criteria for direct aid to avoid capture, but most do not. The distinction is based on risk levels. The Trsg criteria and procedures are provided to the INS and are available to the public. A letter is sent to the INS District Director, mailed shortly before any border action but arriving afterwards, notifying her of the action we have taken, including a list of those aided, identified only by nationality, sex, and age. Trsg's weekly meetings are open to anyone who wants to help and who agrees to comply with the procedures for civil initiative that we have developed, which include openness about our activities and a jury trial if indicted.

The Tucson Ecumenical Council's Task Force on Central America provides emergency social services for all Geneva Convention refugees who arrive in Tucson, with no distinction being made between Protocol and Geneva Convention refugees. During the last two years, there has been a marked drop in the proportion of Protocol refugees arriving from Central America; now maybe five in a hundred Salvadorans and Guatemalans are fleeing because they have been personally targeted for persecution. Most Salvadorans and Guatemalans are Geneva Convention refugees who are fleeing life-threatening conditions caused by war, including the destruction of economic infrastructure (primarily by guerrilla forces) and the free-fire massacres and other gross violations of human rights that are integral to military pacification.

Historically, the recognition of human rights as the normative foundation for civil society has been closely linked with a liberal-democratic tradition that traces back to Medieval Christendom's natural law doctrines but (depending on whose critique one reads) is either founded on or opposed to the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. One critique reconstructs this tradition in terms of possessive individualism, tracing Hobbes through Locke to Bentham, Mill, and others (C.B. MacPherson). In doing so, it studiously ignores the first full formulation of the liberal-democratic political outlook, Spinoza's political philosophy, which starts with Hobbes, unreduced, and then outdoes Hobbes in eliminating all grounds for segregating humankind from the rest of nature. Those who maintain that the liberal-democratic tradition is inseparably tied to possessive individualism also make the modern understanding of human rights an invention of John Locke, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and other Whig landowners who pruned down the human rights outlook of Diggers, Ranters, Familists, Quakers, and other dissenters to fit their property interests. This Whig reduction of the basic rights affirmed by 17th-Century England's underclasses is then taken by liberal democracy's left-wing opponents to justify further drastic pruning.

My understanding of sanctuary begins to deviate at this point from the mainline explanation. Many of the clergy who are involved would look to Christendom's natural law doctrines to explain a church-state relationship whithin which sanctuary has its place. When sanctuary clergy are not whigs (which, by the way, was a slang term for Presbyterians before it became the name of a political party), they may be Thomists, at least in their understanding of the natural law foundations of sanctuary. They might explain sanctuary as the area where spiritual rule overlaps temporal rule, where the religious or moral domain asserts its sovereignty over secular Realpolitik. In this connection, I would agree with Rousseau that "it is not the horrible and false aspects of [Hobbes's] political theory that make it so detestable, but precisely those parts of it which are true" (The Social Contract : Book IV. sec. 8). Religio and civil association are inseparable becuase they are one. As contemporary sanctuary is practiced, it is not founded on a separation of spiritual and temporal dominions. To ignore Hobbes and revert to Christendom's natural law doctrines whenever it is convenient to segregate humankind from the rest of nature (as John Locke did) is to found liberal democracy on the shifting sands of wishful thinking and special interests. Before Locke, Spinoza had already found a firm foundation for liberal democracy by ruthlessly exposing the fact that Hobbes had built Leviathan on ungrounded moralizing about contractual obligation. ("I durst not write so boldly," Hobbes is reported to have remarked after reading the Theologico-Political Treatise.) In or out of civil society, might makes right. That is, rights must be conceived and established through empowerment.

Abstracted from the dynamics of actual civil associations, enumerations of human rights soon lead to wish lists that lack an operational tie to specifiable matching obligations. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with preconditions for human empowerment and dignity, such as free speech and the prohibition of torture, but concludes with annual paid vacations. The substance of human rights is to be discovered in the dynamics of empowerment, not in the analytic enumeration of rights. The form within which they inhere and evolve is historically conditioned civil association, not a fixed exemplar of civil society such as monarchy or democracy. Even the most extreme forms of tyranny destroy themselves before completely nullifying civil association's enhancement of human life and liberty, so any civil association is capable of growing and evolving away from tyranny.

This desegregation of spiritual and temporal domains in no way diminishes the role of the church. Seventeen centuries of Christendom have resulted in the church's acquiring an institutional status within civil society that generates distinctive responsibilities, which the segregation of spiritual from temporal concerns has obscured. Institutionally, the church occupies the only place in society that can incorporate individual acts of civil initiative into a persisting effort to establish and protect human rights. For example, in responding to refugees, I immediately found myself practically if not formally integrated into the church. Outside the church, my response to the refugees would have been a transient, self-destructive gesture. From knowing no priests, rabbis, nuns, pastors, or catechists, I was suddenly spending much of my time with them and staying in churches, convents, and monasteries--along the border from Oceanside to Brownsville and border-to-border from Tucson to Tapachula. In fact, each Thursday I put on black trousers and a white shirt and went with Father Quiñones to visit the Central Americans held for deportation at the penitentiary in Nogales, Mexico, registering as Padre Jaime of the Sociedad de los Amigos.5

This brings us to a point in reconceiving the relationship of civil order to the state that may seem even more outlandish than my identification of the civil condition with religio: The civil and the political are antithetical; the contrast is the same as that between the rule of law and the rule of war.

In the United States, the federal government has politicized refugee rights to reflect its Cold War ideology. It generally respects the rights of refugees fleeing from the Left and violates the rights of refugees fleeing from the Right. Sanctuary might therefore be conceived as a mirror image of this policy, politicized to favor refugees who are fleeing from the Right. Political solidarity groups in the United States that are involved in sanctuary do, in fact, politicize their response, refusing, for example, to help families from El Salvador who have been targeted by guerrilla forces or to help conscientious objectors from Nicaragua. But everywhere along the border sanctuary services are provided by religious rather than political groups, and the religious groups respond according to refugees' needs rather than their political alignments or usefulness. Away from the border, this has been a source of friction because solidarity groups often try to limit sanctuary network services to refugees who are willing to speak publicly against U.S. intervention in Central America. Contrary to many published reports, the opposition of virtually all sanctuary churches, synagogues, and meetings to the politicizing of sanctuary has nothing to do with a reluctance to denounce human rights abuses or to oppose U.S. intervention in Central America. In Mexico, the distinction between human rights advocacy and political advocacy is much clearer because the refugee policies of Left and Right merge. Neither the Left nor the Right wants refugees to escape Central America. The U.S. government uses Mexico as an insulator to intercept and deport Central American refugees, and the Mexican Left regards them as deserters who should have stayed to fight. For example, in 1983 a group within one of Mexico's left-wing political parties decided to assist immigration authorities catch Father Quiñones and me helping refugees. The group also decided to identify the Central Americans working in border assembly plants and turn them in to Immigration. If this plan had not leaked, it might have been effective revolutionary politics. About 10% of El Salvador's people fled the country from 1980 through 1983,6 close to half of them young men. The need to drive out those who might otherwise become guerrillas was one of the reasons for the indiscriminate violence of the Salvadoran military during this period. If the targeted groups had been unable to escape, the Salvadoran government probably would have toppled.

No government or other politico-military organization--and therefore no political party striving to control state power--is a trustworthy guardian of human rights. Nor is any religious organization that aligns itself with a government or party. The politics of national security and the politics of revolution are guided by the dictates of war.

During the Weimar Republic's terminal period, a political philosopher named Carl Schmitt wrote a landmark essay, The Concept of the Political, that merits being added as an epilogue to contemporary editions of Leviathan.7 According to Schmitt, the criterion that distinguishes an action, motive, or group as political is the friend-enemy antithesis. Any of the ways that human beings differentiate themselves into groups can be politicized--that is, can become the basis of a friend-enemy division. The enemy may only rarely be someone we hate or with whom hostilities exist, but is simply the alien, someone who is not one of us in a way that precludes the use of violence to resolve our differences. In other words, Schmitt's explanation of the state of enmity that is the determinative criterion of the political is the same as Hobbes's state of war. It "consists not in actual fighting, but in the known dispostion thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary" [Leviathan 13 (1651): 62]. Where Hobbes focuses on ways to institute and preserve peace among individuals within the body politic, Schmitt focuses on the condition of war that determines the relations among bodies politic.

As long as the state could be considered the form that contains civil society, the ambivalence of the word "political" was no problem. Citizenship entailed relinquishing the use of violence to settle differences among compatriots, with the underside of this association being the obligation to join in making war against those declared by the sovereign power to be the enemy. The ways we identified "us" as "us" and the ways we identified "them" as "them" were complementary. One word, "political," was enough to cover both the rule of law within civil society and the rule of war among civil societies--except in conversations with pacifists.

The political problem with pacifism is that it carries the civil condition too far, to humanity. It rejects the state's right to designate the enemy, and it denies that any human being is, in this basic sense, an alien. This is also the problem with the recognition of universal human rights. And, it is the problem with liberalism. As a political position, liberalism breaks down, not because it is inextricably linked to possessive individualism, but because it is not a political position. Look at the places where it is grafted onto possessive individualism, and you will find that they are the points at which human rights were cut back to fit partisan interests. Before this pruning, it is religio, formulated as a metapolitical principle requiring that friend-enemy divisions be depoliticized into full-spectrum pluralism.

Religio can be formulated as norms concerning universal human rights to life, liberty, and dignity, norms that limit the ways we pursue our diverse interests and objectives. These norms are politicized by making them a common cause, a goal that justifies whatever means may be necessary. The contrast between the civil and the political reflects this distinction between association based on principles that limit how we pursue diverse goals and association based on a common goal that determines the means we must use. But the formulation of norms is an afterthought. As an active choice rather than a reflective contrast, this has to do with religion. Does communion grow out of a fulfilled present, or is the present an obstacle that must be sacrificed for the sake of eventual communion?

The history of modern political theory might be read as an attempt to derive the cohesive powers of religio from the coercive powers of the state. To be the form that contains civil society, the modern nation-state needs a technocratic foundation. As a practice, religio is the antithesis of technocratic activity. It grounds action in worship--that is, in becoming present-centered by ceasing all busyness or moralizing concerned with bending or conjuring the world to fit our notions of the way it should be. With regard to individuals, its most elementary form is meditation; with regard to communities, sabbath. Subjectively, ceasing to work at bending the world to our will opens the way for intuitive awareness that we each exist only by virtue of our relation to all others, that life is among us rather than in us, that one person can be present to another as subject rather than object only by virtue of presence for whom there is no otherness.

Thinking of religio in terms of its elementary lineaments can be misleading, though, in that it is inseparably woven into concrete, historical religions. Analyzing it into minimal creedal elements, social philosophers have sometimes tried to invent civil religions to compensate for the modern state's loss of religio's cohesive powers. Similarly, the professionally religious sometimes try to homogenize diverse creeds and rituals into ecumenical forms that are acceptable to everyone. In contrast, the recombinant "church" celebrates the diversity and historical specificity of the faith-formed peoples that are gathering to provide sanctuary. It is a growing together of peoples whose histories converge in the mutually supportive practice of their faiths, a practice that is often conceived in terms of a common covenant.

The prophet Micah points toward the nature of this covenant:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Mic.6:6-8)

In Tucson this gathering of peoples is celebrated by a Freedom Seder that has become a part of the sanctuary congregations' liturgical year. It is a remembrance of Passover that weaves the present experience of refugees and sanctuary volunteers into an awareness of more than three millennia of exile, oppression, and liberation--a Passover remembrance that we join in affirming as our common heritage. Woven into this historical weft, our shared experience gathers sanctuary communities into a people of peoples. In its contemporary dimension, as prophetic fulfillment now being woven into history, its meaning is colored by Isaiah's prophecy of the gathering of Covenant peoples:

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." Thus says the Lord, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, "I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered." (Isa. 56:7-8)

This Isaian gathering has been shaped by events rather than preconceptions. The first Freedom Seder was held on 18 April1984. Temple Emanu-El had planned a Passover seder for refugees, but then, on 13 April, Jack Elder was arrested in San Benito, Texas, and charged with transporting three Salvadorans to the local bus station from Casa Romero, a refugee shelter of the Brownsville Diocese. We immediately began consulting with refugees and alerting volunteers to the possibility that Jack's arrest could be the beginning of a nationwide crackdown on sanctuary, that the INS might take advantage of the seder to arrest volunteers and detain refugees. There was little time to prepare, but by telephone and through local faith communities we asked that refugees and those willing to accompany them assemble at Southside Presbyterian on the evening of the seder to caravan to Temple Emanu-El, about five miles away. We had no way to know how many refugees or volunteers would take the risk.

At Five on the evening of the seder, the time when supporters had been asked to begin assembling, only a handful arrived, mostly refugees. Then, about 5:20, others began arriving, and still more kept coming until there was no longer room anywhere in the church sanctuary, and then they crowded around the building at the doors and windows. Soon, traffic jammed the surrounding streets. More than seventy Salvadorans and Guatemalans came, and the caravan that accompanied them to Temple Emanu-El was two-miles long. Before leaving Southside, 143 of those accompanying the refugees signed the following statement:

We, the undersigned, are transporting undocumented Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees to the Freedom Seder at Temple Emanu-El. For the same act of transporting refugees, the U.S. Justice Department is selectively prosecuting Jack Elder, Director of Casa Oscar Romero.

After the Second World War, the U.S. government bound itself by law never again to expel or return refugees to any country in which they would face persecution. At Nuremberg and Geneva, the U.S. government also established that everyone has the right to protect refugees. Consequently, our transporting of the refugees is not an act of civil disobedience. Rather, we are demonstrating that, in its violations of human rights here and abroad, the Reagan administration lacks legitimacy as our government. Injustice has disguised itself as authority and is using the executive power to violate just laws.

That was sanctuary's passover in Tucson. From that day, there would be no further question that refugees would find protection within the community and that efforts by the government to crush the practice of sanctuary would, instead, stimulate its growth. Nine months later, on 21 January 1985, a similar nationwide gathering would crowd into Temple Emanu-El in response to the indictments that initiated the Arizona Sanctuary Trial.

Underlying the complexities of sanctuary's evolving role within civil society, the sanctuary covenant that gathers us into a people of peoples remains clear and present. Here in the borderlands, we join the generations that stand at Sinai. We hear ourselves called to become a people that hallows the earth--not by ritual or sacrifice, but by fulfilling our task as co-creators of humanity. At every turn we see that humankind has not yet been fully formed into an image of the Holy; many among us are violated. And, standing with the generations at Sinai, we also see that entering into full community with the violated is the way that heals humanity into one body. The communion that unites us is sanctuary.

*A version of this paper was presented as a Plenary Session Address to the Western Social Science Association on 23 April 1987.


1 See Alexander M. Bickel, "Citizen or Person" in The Morality of Consent, Yale UP, 1975.

2 See Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, Chicago UP, 1960: 19-20.

3 Note that the contribution of the Nuremberg Principles to the rule of law is in what might be called a weak interpretation. That is, it is contrary to fundamental civil liberties to execute or imprison people for violations of law that were ordered by their government, that were not clearly codified as crimes, or that were declared to be crimes only after the fact. The execution of Nazi and Japanese war criminals may have been judicial murder. But there should no longer be any question that the nonviolent protection of human rights is never illegal. The focal questions now concern the integration into existing legal systems of extra-governmental civil initiative to protect human rights.

4 See Karen Parker, "Geneva Convention Protections for Salvadoran Refugees" in Immigration Newsletter, May-June 1984 (National Lawyers Guild, Inc.).

5 The Mexican constitution has a truly Hobbesian approach to church-state relations. All church buildings are state property; priests are excluded from the franchise; and the wearing of clerical garb on the streets is prohibited. But this has little to do with the institutional reality that admitted Padre Jaime into the penitentiary.

6 See James Silk, Despite a Generous Spirit (U.S. Committee for Refugees Issue Paper), American Council for Nationalities Service, l986: 35-39.

7 Carl Schmitt'sThe Concept of the Political (Rutgers UP, 1976) merits being appended to Leviathan because the most urgent problems in political theory now have to do with the rule of war among states and other politico-military organizations rather than the incorporation of individuals into the modern nation-state. The new absolutism of the national security state is the leading neo-Hobbesian response, although it inverts Hobbes's priorities. Hobbes thought peace should be pursued at any cost short of death, including subjection to what others would call tyranny.


Corbett, Jim. A Letter. 12 May 1981. [This letter is reproduced, along with other sanctuary documents, in Sanctuary Papers, a 250 page volume available for photocopy cost from Trsg, 739 E-5th Street, Tucson, AZ 85719.]

Corbett, Jim. "The Goat Cheese Economy of the South Baja Sierras" (in two parts). The Dairy Goat Journal July 1979:14—15, 66-70 and August 1979: 14-17, 32-33.

"Immigration's Happy Warrior." Time 27 January 1986: 23.

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Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan [1651] . MacPherson ed.

Johnson, Lyndon B. Public Papers of President Lyndon Baines Johnson '68-'69; II (GPO).

Locke, John. Second Treatise . Barker ed.

MacPherson, C.B. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. Oxford UP,1962.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Barker ed.

Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Rutgers UP, 1976.

"U.S. Refugee Policy Is Nothing Flee." Los Angeles Times, 17 Jan. 1985: 2.5.


Bau, Ignatius. This Ground is Holy: The Provision of Church Sanctuary for Central American Refugees. Paulist Press, 1985.

Corbett, Jim. The Sanctuary Church. Pendle Hill Pamphlet #266, 1986.

Golden, Renny and Michael McConnell. Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad. Orbis, 1986.

Loder, Ted. No One But Us: Personal Reflections on Public Sanctuary. Lura Media, 1986.

MacEoin, Gary, editor. Sanctuary: A Resource Guide for Understanding and Participating in the Central American Refugees' Struggle. Harper and Row, 1985.

Tomsho, Robert. The American Sanctuary Movement. Texas Monthly Press, 1987.