March 13, 2017

As a result of the recently escalated anti-immigrant rhetoric and activity in the United States, the sanctuary movement has gained new life and is growing among faith congregations all over the country. Many have memories of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s, during which immigrants fleeing Central America were helped into the country. This movement differs in that it is helping those who are already here in the country but do not have documentation and are therefore under threat of deportation.
Some faith congregations are offering physical housing to undocumented individuals, while others are supporting those congregations in a variety of ways. Numerous organizations are providing training and other tools to assist this effort.

The Harvard Square Churches Sanctuary Coalition has been formed in Cambridge as part of this movement, and currently consists of the following congregations.

Supporting Congregations to University Lutheran Church:

  • Cambridge Minyan
  • Harvard Divinity School Student Led Interfaith and Secular Coalition
  • Harvard Epworth United Methodist Church
  • First Church in Cambridge (UCC)
  • Old Cambridge Baptist Church
  • Eitz Chaim
  • Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quaker)


Four key factors that are important in Supporting Congregations.

  1. Volunteers – If guests are housed in the physical church it could require 1 to 2 people with them in the church 24 hours a day, so volunteers would need to take shifts.  If there are enough congregations in the coalition, it might mean providing volunteers for around 24 hours a day one day a week.
  2. Providing food for those given physical sanctuary – This could be a combination of supplying groceries for the guests to be able to cook for themselves and providing prepared meals.
  3. Funding that could be used to help with a variety of things including legal defense.
  4. Advocacy for those who are being threatened with deportation.

Understanding that not all congregations can provide all of these, each needs to commit to what is realistic for their community.


Additional information



March 1, 2017

Sanctuary Resource

On March 1, Linda Rabben, anthropologist at University of Maryland, human rights advocate, and attender of Adelphia, MD, Friends Meeting gave a talk about the history of sanctuary movements in the United States and led a lively discussion about the 1980’s sanctuary movement and the current situation. This event was sponsored by FMC’s Friends for Racial Justice committee.

Dr. Rabben’s interest in sanctuary movements began when she was a consultant to the ACLU and asked how she, personally, could help. The ACLU put her in touch with a young woman who had been detained prior to deportation. In working to prevent that woman’s deportation, Dr. Rabben became convinced of the need to understand sanctuary movements more generally and the way our immigration-related legal system works in particular.

Her new book, Sanctuary & Asylum: A Social and Political History, explores the long history of sanctuary and analyzes modern asylum policies, contrasting them with the role that courageous individuals and organizations have played in offering refuge to survivors of torture, persecution, and discrimination.

—Barbara Scott Nelson