On Holy Ground: Church Sanctuary in the Trump Era

Report Author: 
Valerie J. Munson
Original Date of Publication: 
March, 2018

The number of deportations of unauthorized immigrants has increased dramatically since the election of Donald Trump. In keeping with long-standing tradition, religious communities across the United States have responded by providing sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants in the form of housing and social services. Thus far, immigration authorities have refrained from entering sacred spaces to apprehend unauthorized immigrants. But, is it legal for religious communities to provide such sanctuary under the current law criminalizing the "harboring" of unauthorized immigrants? Can immigration authorities enter sacred spaces to apprehend unauthorized immigrants if they wish? This article addresses those questions. The first part of the article reviews the history of sanctuary from ancient times to the present-day in the United States. Next, it surveys current law on the legality of church sanctuary, especially the provisions prohibiting the "harboring" of unauthorized immigrants. Finally, it recommends that the courts and the federal government should construe "harboring" in a manner consistent with the history of the statute, namely to prevent smuggling and other clandestine activity. As long as religious congregations are exercising their first amendment rights, objecting to an activity they deem to be a violation of their conscience, and not seeking to evade detection, they should not have to fear enforcement actions focused on houses of workshop. (Diversity Dynamics)

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Citation: 

Munson, Valerie, On Holy Ground: Church Sanctuary in the Trump Era (February 5, 2018). Southwestern University Law Review, Vol. 47, p. 49, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3118398

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