09/02/2009 04:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Faces of Detention and Deportation: Defending Community Without Borders

Detention and deportation affect individuals and communities in a myriad of ways. Adults placed in detention far away from home find themselves isolated from family members and support systems. Families are fragmented; children can become 'orphans' overnight. As Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) intensifies its strategies - including home raids - there has been a corresponding resurgence of pro-immigrant efforts, especially on the part of the New Sanctuary Movement.

The New Sanctuary Movement held its national gathering at Riverside Church from September 1-3. The theme of the gathering was Radical Welcome: Celebrating and Defending Communities without Borders. Participants included John Fife, a founder of the 1980s Sanctuary Movement. Skill-building sessions focused on faith-rooted community organizing; strategies for fighting back against deportation; and coalition building with communities of different faiths. I attended the workshop addressing responses to 287g (the deputization of local law enforcement to act as immigration enforcers) and Secure Communities Initiative. The plenary session addressed detention; a town hall meeting on legislative issues featured voices of sanctuary families, religious leaders and representatives of elected leaders (Cong. Anthony Weiner and Jose Serrano). On Wednesday evening, there was even a vigil outside the Varick Street Detention Center in lower Manhattan.

The notion of sanctuary is not a new or novel concept. Rooted in biblical tradition, the word sanctuary dates back to biblical times when safe havens were established for people fearing reprisals for civil or criminal offenses.

The Sanctuary Movement was first formed in the 1980s when thousands of Central American nationals arrived in the United States seeking refuge from human rights violations and life-threatening repression by their governments. Under then prevailing federal immigration policy, the majority of these nationals would have been denied political asylum, given that there governments were allies with the United States. The refugees sought protection from congregations. Not only was the Sanctuary Movement instrumental in protecting thousands of individuals and families, but it also successfully influenced national policy.

Additionally, some cities adopted sanctuary policies. In the early 1980s, Los Angeles adopted a sanctuary policy when the police commission issued an order which prohibited the police department from cooperating with the immigration service. Other major cities - including New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle - followed suit.

The New Sanctuary Movement was founded in 2006 on a platform of

faith-based moral principles to protect immigrant families from being torn apart by unjust deportation ... and brings together people of faith from across a broad spectrum of denominations and states to accompany and protect immigrant families who are facing the violation of their rights, in the form of hatred, workplace discrimination, and unjust deportation, and is working for fair, humane, comprehensive immigration reform.

The New Sanctuary Movement is coordinated by CLUE-CA, IWJ, and the New York Sanctuary Coalition.

As President Obama prepares to discuss immigration, the New Sanctuary Movement is poised to engage in and influence the discourse on comprehensive immigration reform.

NOTE: To send feedback on community initiatives, email comments to Dr. Jannah Scott, DHS Deputy Director, Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives: