While the New Sanctuary movement has revived activist hopes of a revived national church movement for immigrant rights, the current move to protect undocumented immigrants is more locally based, less mobile, and has found recruitment and building a common identity more difficult than the pioneering movement of the 1980s, according to a recent study.
The study, presented by Grace Yukich of New York University at the October meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) in Denver, laid out the most basic difference between the two sanctuary movements: there is no physical “sanctuary” today. The movement does not seek to shelter immigrants, but rather forms partnerships between immigrant families and congregations, which seek to assist them in various ways. Yukich, who interviewed 70 New Sanctuary movement activists and their allies in New York and Los Angeles, said that the more-stringent immigrant laws today have meant that immigrants arrive more for economic than for political reasons.
Among activists, she found some ambiguity and confusion about the sanctuary concept itself and weak identification with the national movement. This has led to difficulty in recruiting people, especially as activists are divided between the goals of political advocacy and directly helping families. Yukich also found that some quarters of the movement are more overtly religious than others, making it difficult for it to build a collective identity, which has also hindered ongoing recruitment of volunteers and activists, she concluded.