In the 1930s, a million Mexican people were forced out of the United States across the border into Mexico. It wasn’t called deportation then—euphemistically it was referred to as repatriation. About 60 percent of those people were actually U.S. citizens. In 1942, the government incarcerated all Japanese people on the West Coast. Two-thirds were U.S. citizens. The previous century gave us the Know Nothing Party wanting to ban Catholic immigrants. Missouri’s Extermination Order of 1838 made Mormons enemies of the state. It was legal to kill them.
This country is not new to religious exclusion and intolerance for immigrants.
That ugly history has actually given us valuable skills of resistance—strong moral and political muscles—as Mary Turck says in her article for this issue. We know how to stand up for ourselves against wrong-headed governments. We know not to be quiet when we see our neighbors being treated unjustly.
Days after President Trump took office, he showed that closing the borders to Muslims—particularly refugees—and deporting undocumented people would be among his highest priorities. His first travel ban set off chaos and confusion at airports across the nation. But just as swiftly, Americans headed to the airports to show their opposition. Some offered legal aid, some engaged in disruptive protesting, and others just wanted to be there to stand in solidarity with foreign-born people and their families.
That homegrown resistance hasn’t let up.
Every day we hear of anti-immigrant violence and the increasing fears among immigrants regardless of legal status. We also hear about mayors of big cities and small towns shaking their fists at the federal government: “We are a sanctuary city.”
Those are bold and brave stances. So thank you, Santa Ana. That sanctuary city is a vital immigrant foothold—78 percent Latino—situated within Orange County, California, one of the nation’s most politically conservative places. These sanctuary proclamations show the world an alternative America not governed by xenophobia. They also let 11 million undocumented people know that in some places they can feel a tiny bit less afraid.
Sanctuary cities are not enough, though. The broken immigration system begins with an economy that relies on immigrant labor but doesn’t value the people doing the work. It continues in federal policies that have made an unjust mess of work visa programs and reasonable paths to citizenship. While we look for the political will to change these systems, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves what kind of a society we want to be: Will we offer compassion to those struggling the most to build safe lives?
That’s why the real work of sanctuary—creating safety and shelter and welcome—mostly falls to ordinary people: neighbors and often strangers willing to demand justice for others. This issue celebrates their compassionate defiance.