Editorial: The Fraud That Failed

Nobody has noticed, but the “Sanctuary movement,” after more than three years of frenetic and deceptive organizing, isn’t going anywhere. There are 339,843 churches and synagogues in the U.S. Of these, only 253 have offered “sanctuary.”

The chief reason is the fraud on which the movement is based. At great expense, with careful screening, and with intensive indoctrination, the “movement” ushers a tiny band of dissident Salvadorans (and Guatemalans) before compassionate audiences. It never helps refugees from Nicaragua.

Why this double standard? The reason is explicit in the literature of the Sanctuary movement. The aim of the movement is not to help needy individuals. Its aim is to oppose Reagan Administration policy in Central America. For that purpose, Nicaraguan refugees don’t count.

Millions today seek refuge in the U.S. A total of 1.7 million persons worldwide, immigrant visas to the U.S. already granted, now stand waiting the opportunity to enter. The U.S., writes one immigrant writer, is like a Broadway smash: “People are lined up around the block waiting to get in.”

This is a generous country. During the 1970s more immigrants entered it than in any decade except two in our history. During 1984 alone, 430,000 persons were accepted as immigrants: a rate of 4.3 million this decade.

About 70 percent of all Salvadorans in El Salvador said in a recent poll that they “would emigrate to the U.S. to work.” By overwhelming majorities, those here say they have not come for political reasons.

Still, every year the U.S. admits tens of thousands of persons from around the world who have a well-founded fear that they will suffer unjust persecution in the country where they now reside. In 1984 alone, some 70,000 refugees entered the U.S. on that basis. In addition, anyone who reaches U.S. soil may apply for political asylum. If he meets the “well-founded fear” requirement, he will be allowed to stay as a refugee. U.S. law puts no limit on the number of persons who may be granted asylum. Beyond the Salvadoran refugees who entered this country in 1984, 328 Salvadorans residing here were also granted political asylum—possibly a higher number than the Sanctuary movement brought in.

Cruelly, the Sanctuary movement does not permit its victims to use these legal channels.

A writer for The Nation, Rob Huesca, recently reported sympathetically on the Sanctuary movement for the Los Angeles Times (December 28, 1984). He describes how he learned “exactly who the refugees are and where they come from:”

To begin with, refugees are always referred to the group by teachers, or church or union workers from their countries. After extensive interviews, only endangered refugees and potential political activists are extended sanctuary. Those bound for the United States in flight from poverty are not given aid. They have to demonstrate political persecution and voice opposition to American involvement in their countries. Furthermore, they have to express a willingness to relate their experiences publicly on arriving in the United States. [Emphasis added.]

No wonder the Sanctuary movement—out of hundreds of thousands of immigrants—has found so few persons to bring forward, despite assiduous recruitment. No wonder even willing churches have to wait months for “their” refugee—who usually stays only a day or two, before being trundled off to another speech. Only those are brought in who are willing propagandists and political agents.

Once here, legal refugees have every opportunity for the free speech accorded all American citizens, even Marxists. There is no need for “an underground railroad.” The above-ground railroad brings in millions of persons every decade, legal and illegal.

In the U.S. today, there are already 500,000 Salvadorans; 350,000 of them arrived before the outbreak of hostilities in 1979. The vast majority do not come here for political reasons. They send back to El Salvador $30 million per month. A substantial majority of them support U.S. policy in El Salvador.

Some have fled from the terror inflicted by the Salvadoran guerrillas, who in recent months have kidnapped more than 30 duly elected Christian Democratic mayors, murdered two, and kidnapped the daughter of President Duarte.

Consider these facts, as well:

• During 1984, U.S. Immigration officers arrested 18,000 persons for violating immigration law. Of these, only 20 involved the Sanctuary movement.

• During all of 1984, there were 771 violent deaths among civilians in El Salvador. In a nation of 4.5 million persons, this is a lower number than in a U.S. city of that size.

The people of the U.S. are not as gullible as the extreme Religious Left. The Sanctuary movement is a fraud that has failed.

Michael Novak

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Michael Novak held for many years the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and is now a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. He is a philosopher, theologian, and author, as well as the 1994 recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He has been an emissary to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He has written over twenty-seven books on the philosophy and theology of culture, especially the essential elements of a free society. He also founded Crisis Magazine with Ralph McInerny in 1982.

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