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Sanctuary 

Twenty years ago, Tucsonans moved by the plight of Central American refugees fleeing war and political oppression offered them sanctuary despite legal consequences. A movement was born.

James A. Corbett, who died August 2 at age 67, was a Harvard-educated philosopher and Arizona rancher who harbored refugees in his Tucson home.

John M. Fife III, pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, enlisted others to the cause, and his church became the first in the country to declare itself a sanctuary for these "illegal" immigrants.

The refugees entering the United States were compared to American slaves in the 19th century and an "underground railroad" was founded to assist them.

In 1986, 11 people were tried on charges of violating immigration laws. Three were found not guilty, six convicted of conspiracy and two of lesser charges. They were sentenced to probation.

The movement faded as the flood of Central American refugees diminished with the end of bloody civil wars in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. But support for preserving human rights remains strong, as Mexican and other economic refugees continue to flow north.

Those who provided sanctuary two decades ago are remembered in this issue. Julienne Gage writes about Luisa Orellano, a Salvadoran refugee, in "Saints at the Border." Gene Armstrong writes about Nicaraguan folk-music duo Guardabarranco, which will perform at an anniversary commemoration at Southside Presbyterian Church.

The inspiration of the Sanctuary movement is well worth remembering. That same impulse inspires others today to help those less fortunate.

More by Michael Parnell

  • Last Call

    A note from the editor.
    • Jan 30, 2003
  • War

    A note from the editor.
    • Jan 16, 2003
  • Peace

    A note from the editor.
    • Jan 9, 2003
  • More »

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