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Toney Anaya and the State of Sanctuary
The Social Life of a Controversial Proclamation, 1980-1988
By Aimee V. Garza
On Good Friday, 28 March 1986, Governor Toney Anaya, issued a proclamation declaring the state of New Mexico, the nation’s first, “State of Sanctuary” for refugees fleeing the devastating civil wars in Central America. The announcement came during the Easter Season--a time for reflection--that served to underscore the moral weight or “compassionate spirit” of the Sanctuary Declaration, primarily as a “symbolic gesture of solidarity,” grounded in Anaya’s own religious and political convictions. However, the last line of the document stated that administrative guidelines would follow, making for a more concrete policy on the protection of refugees seeking sanctuary in New Mexico. The declaration also produced some untended consequences. When a writer, Demetria Martinez, and a former Lutheran minister, Glen Thamert, were indicted on charges of violating immigration law in relation to transporting two Salvadoran women across the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso to a safe house in Albuquerque, the Sanctuary Declaration became the cornerstone of a successful legal defense.
As these brief examples illustrate, the declaration was much more than a symbolic gesture; it was a political statement connected to a broader movement, with potential policy implications for all undocumented immigrants. The Sanctuary Movement was a faith-based movement that emerged in response to the situation of violence and civil upheaval in El Salvador and Guatemala, which led to the mass exodus of people from these war-torn areas seeking refuge in the United States and Canada. In response to this critical situation, sanctuary workers from a broad spectrum of faith traditions provided various kinds of assistance to Central Americans sometimes, risking their own lives and emotional health in the process. The movement began as the local level (primarily in Tucson, Arizona and Chicago, Illinois) as individuals and churches organized to provide humanitarian aid and legal assistance for refugees to help them get settled and navigate the process of attaining political asylum in the United States or Canada. Initially, John Fife and Jim Corbett of Arizona, who later became the charismatic leaders of the Sanctuary Movement, worked within the system. They raised funds to get refugees out of immigration detention centers and assisted them with legal fees. However, when working within the system failed, sanctuary workers turned to more radical approach which involved creating an underground railroad with networks of churches and safe houses in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
The Sanctuary Movement came into the light after years of clandestine activity, when six churches held a press conference on 24 March 1982, announcing their commitment to provide places of refuge, transportation, and humanitarian aid to people fleeing El Salvador and Guatemala and other Central American countries. The Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona and five East Bay California churches were at the forefront of the early movement with John Fife and Jim Corbett as cofounders and spokesmen. However, by June 1986, the movement had expanded well beyond its centers of origin into a loose network of sanctuary workers and designated congregations throughout the United States.
Activists involved in the faith-based Sanctuary Movement worked in collaboration and sometimes in tension with secular organizations focused on Central American issues. Both the Central American Solidarity Movement and the Sanctuary Movement aimed to speak truth to power by bringing to light the role of the United States government in funding oppressive political regimes and military death squads that killed hundreds of thousands civilians and political dissidents, as well as the covert U.S. military operations in the region. People involved in the Sanctuary Movement acted on a higher moral authority, using Biblical references and other religious arguments to reinforce and justify their actions. This faith-inspired, grass-roots movement made inroads at the local level usually through churches, but often had transnational connections that facilitated the transportation of Central Americas and raised funds to aid, and abet refugees in violation of federal immigration laws. These actions were political in that they were directed in opposition to Reagan-era foreign policy and U.S. military interventions in Central America. As a moral critique of the government and liberal backlash to the rise of the ultraconservative Evangelical movement, the Sanctuary Movement mounted a progressive counterpoint, particularly in mainline Protestant Churches, to the rise of the Evangelical Right during the 1980s.
This essay traces the brief, but significant career of Toney Anaya’s Sanctuary Declaration through archival documents and oral history interviews with former Governor Anaya and people who were involved in the movement in New Mexico (1985–1988). The fundamental questions driving this inquiry into New Mexico’s Sanctuary Declaration and its social, political, and religious implications is what constitutes a “Sanctuary State” and what conditions made such a political project possible. Given that large numbers of refugees from Central America never settled in New Mexico, what motivated Toney Anaya to declare the state a “State of Sanctuary?” Scholarship on the Sanctuary Movement has largely focused on the activism and criminal trials that occurred in Arizona and Texas or the experiences of refugees and sanctuary organizations in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, New Mexico’s role as a point of entry and “waiting station” for refugees on their way to other places has been overlooked.
Declaring Sanctuary in New Mexico
In a letter addressed to New Mexico State legislators, Governor Anaya, stated that his intention for issuing the Sanctuary Declaration was to “express my support for the equal and impartial treatment of Central American refugees who flee this nation for refuge and to focus state and national debate on this question” (11 April 1986). His primary concern was that refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala were being systematically denied refugee status and political asylum in the United States in violation of federal and international law. The 1980 Refugee Act, elevated quotas for admissions, expanded the definition of the category, “refugee,” and established an “orderly but flexible” procedure for dealing with refugee emergencies. In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, which obligates nations to assist people fleeing war or political persecution, the 1980 Refugee Act also established an asylum provision in immigration law, which would allow refugees an extended period of voluntary departure, so that they could remain in the United States at least temporarily, without fear of deportation until the threat to their lives had dissipated.
These laws, however, were applied in a discriminatory manner. Refugees from Europe and the Middle East were granted political asylum at much higher rates than Central Americans, who were more often labeled, “economic refugees” (escaping poverty, not political persecution) and therefore, routinely detained and deported. Anaya cites this “systematic discrimination” as the primary justification for declaring New Mexico a State of Sanctuary. As an act of defiance and statement of opposition to the federal government’s unfair treatment of Central Americans, the declaration doubled as a gesture of solidarity with the local and national Sanctuary Movement(s), and in many ways, legitimized the politics and actions of its members. While Governor Anaya is credited for conceiving the idea of the Sanctuary State, activists invested in the Central American cause and individuals engaged in sanctuary work came under the umbrella of the New Mexico Council of Churches to effectively lobby the New Mexico legislature to pass two Memorials (in the House and Senate) related to Central American refugees the year prior to the issuance of Anaya’s declaration (1985). The Memorials called upon the United States Department of Justice to extend voluntary departure status to Salvadoran refugees and urged the U.S. Congress to pass the DeConcini-Moakley Bill, which would mandate this status continue until the civil strife in their country subsided.
The New Mexico Council of Churches was the institutional arm of the movement. Under the leadership of Jane Bergquest, who served as the coordinator of the Hospitality of Central American Refugees Task Force, the organization built a network of individuals through churches and other venues who worked to educate the public about Central American issues. They also recruited people to assist in providing housing and other kinds of assistance to Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees residing in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Although the Catholic Church under Archbishop Robert Sanchez vigorously supported the Sanctuary Movement and many Catholics quietly participated in the work of providing sanctuary as individuals, none of the Catholic parishes in New Mexico declared themselves Sanctuary Churches.
Protestant congregations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe debated the question, often times leading to tension and conflict within the parish. St. Andrews Presbyterian discussed becoming a Sanctuary Church, but there were many parishioners who worked for the Sandia Laboratories who feared repercussions from their government employers. Erik Mason, currently an elder at Westminster Presbyterian in Santa Fe, remembered the polemic the issue of declaring sanctuary caused First Presbyterian splitting the congregation along political lines. The Pastor of First Presbyterian, James Brown, was active in the movement and enthusiastically supported Governor Anaya’s Sanctuary Declaration but not all of his congregants agreed with his position. The smaller Westminster Presbyterian never became an officially designated Sanctuary Church, but they did sponsor a Salvadoran family who decided to settle in Santa Fe and whose descendents continue to be active members of the parish. On 19 August 1984, the Santa Fe Friends Meeting declared itself a public sanctuary for Central American refugees, the Albuquerque Friends Meeting (Quakers) followed suit in November of the same year. As the Quaker tradition dictates, this decision was made through unanimous consensus, which was a difficult and rather painful process which led to some members having to recuse themselves from the decision altogether. Quakers from the Santa Fe Meeting House were largely responsible for organizing other faith communities, and secular organizations to successfully lobby members of the Santa Fe City Council to draft a resolution declaring Santa Fe a city of refuge for Salvadorans and Guatemalans in 1985. San Francisco, California, claims the status of being the first city in the United States to declare themselves a “City and County of Refuge for Central American refugees.” However, San Francisco’s 1985 resolution simply directed that “city departments shall not discriminate against Salvadorian and Guatemalan refugees based on immigration status” (Pham 2006: 1387). It was not until 1989 that San Francisco passed an ordinance that more generally prohibited city employees from assisting in the enforcement of immigration laws or gathering or disseminating information about immigration status, unless required by law (Pham 2006: 1388).
In contrast, Santa Fe’s 1985 declaration stated that “agents, agencies, officers and employees, in the performance of official duties shall not to the extent legally possible, assist or voluntarily cooperate with Immigration and Naturalization Service investigations or arrest procedures relating to alleged violations of immigration law by Salvadorans and Guatemalans.” Based on this rather superficial comparison, Santa Fe’s 1985 resolution had more comprehensive and enforceable policy directives than did San Francisco’s initial document. If a "sanctuary city" is defined as a place where refugees are protected from deportation through an assertion of local sovereignty or in this case, refusing to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law, Santa Fe would indeed usurp San Francisco's claim to fame. That being said, these declarations have a narrow scope of influence because in reality, the drafting and enforcement of immigration law is the purview of the federal government. In essence, the “sanctuary city” cannot exist since immigration agents will detain and deport people regardless of the establishment of declarations of non-corporation at the local or state level.
However, the central question to consider is what motivated Governor Anaya to declare New Mexico a “State of Sanctuary?” New Mexico was certainly not a hub for Central American migration and settlement, only a few hundred were living in the state at the time the declaration was issued. However, many refugees came through New Mexico on their way to other places. Los Angeles, for example, received over 30,000 refugees annually during the mid-1980s. There are two tentative answers to the question: First, sanctuary workers and advocates pushed for the action. Declaring New Mexico a “State of Sanctuary” bolstered the movement by igniting debate and increasing public awareness of the plight of Central Americans. The declaration also served to legitimize the local Sanctuary Movement and provide political cover for their clandestine activities. The second reason is more complex and has to do with Anaya’s personal convictions, political aspirations and the events that transpired during his tenure as Governor. However, before discussing these issues in further detail, the Sanctuary Declaration as a “liminal” document that produces multiple meanings and social effects must be fully comprehended.
The Sanctuary State
New Mexico’s declared status as a “State of Sanctuary” turned the national and international media spotlight on Governor Anaya and spurred a firestorm of controversy locally. While the reactions to the proclamation were overwhelmingly positive, those who opposed the action tended to dominate the conversation. Republican Senator, Les Houston, declared his Albuquerque district 19, in the Northeast Heights near the Kirtland Air Force Base, a “non-sanctuary” zone in protest. Although the declaration had no legal authority over INS, Mario Ortiz, a spokesperson for the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the time, called the declaration a “cruel hoax” that will draw more illegal aliens into the state under the false impression that they would be protected from deportation or be given refugee status. David Vandersall, the Regional Commissioner for INS issued a press release in which he stated, “Although Governor Anaya claims that his proclamation is not unlawful, the governor freely admits that he seeks to discourage cooperation with the INS.” The tussle between Governor Anaya and INS was resolved after he met with Vandersall to discuss the declaration. Anaya defended his proclamation as a “symbolic, moral statement” and made a sharp distinction between Central American refugees fleeing for their lives, and illegal immigrants who migrate for economic reasons, who were not covered by his proclamation. Governor Anaya repeatedly emphasized in official communications and media statements that the Sanctuary Declaration was a symbolic gesture referring exclusively to refugees from Central America and did not speak to the question of illegal immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Nevertheless, Governor Anaya’s proclamation became the target of criticism from conservative pundits and anti-immigrant extremists and gained national media attention. On 29 June 1986, Anaya appeared on the ABC News program, “This Week with David Brinkley” to speak about immigration issues and his Sanctuary Declaration. Guests included INS Commissioner Alan Nelson, Senator, Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyoming) and Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm. Sam Donaldson joined David Brinkley and News Analyst, George Will at the table. Interpreting Anaya’s Sanctuary Declaration as a welcome mat for all illegal immigrants, Brinkley asked, “Tell me, how many immigrants should we take?” Anaya responded first by separating the Central American situation from the question of illegal immigration and suggested that unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States should be given some kind of amnesty while at the same time curbing the flow of migration by tightening up border security. This argument, made in 1986, should sound familiar. It echoes the Democratic position on the need for immigration reform today.
In the fall of 1986, Anaya published an article in the Hofstra Law Review in support of the Sanctuary Movement. In this article he outlines the Biblical and moral imperatives that underpin the concept of sanctuary but focuses his argument on three central issues: 1) the United States is violating international and federal law by deporting Salvadorans and Guatemalans back to their homelands; 2) the discriminatory application of refugee designation and granting of asylum against Central Americans; 3) the Geneva Conventions protection of the right of U.S. citizens to offer humanitarian aid to refugees. The article, which was also presented as a lecture on 26 June 1986 before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., was a serious analysis of the failure of the U.S. government to address the Central American issue in a humane and ethical manner, the lack of transparency about U.S. military intervention in the region, and the obfuscation of the political motivations behind the persecution of the Sanctuary Movement. The arguments and scholarly evidence presented in this article became the basis for his proclamation, revealing Anaya’s serious consideration of Central American issues and his sincere dedication to the idea of sanctuary.
While Governor Anaya’s investment in the Central American cause is clearly evidenced in his writings and lectures on the topic and in his controversial move to establish (symbolically or otherwise) New Mexico as a “State of Sanctuary” there were other political motivations behind the proclamation. During the summer of 1982, while Anaya was a candidate for governor, he made a trip to Mexico City to meet with Mexican presidential candidate, Miguel de la Madrid (PRI). The meeting was to be focused on tourism and trade between the New Mexico and Northern Mexico, but the more controversial issues such as immigration would be avoided. While in Mexico, a press conference was held in which Anaya was asked to comment on his impressions of President Ronald Reagan. This was a moment that called for a careful diplomatic answer, but Anaya responded off the cuff, stating that President Reagan “is the most anti-Hispanic president in my memory.” In a recent interview with former Governor Anaya, he recalled this moment with some regret, because the comment would come back to haunt him in unexpected ways.
According to Anaya’s version of events, U.S. Attorney, William Lutz, a Reagan appointee, made it his personal mission to make Anaya’s tenure as governor a living hell. Lutz brought up numerous frivolous indictments, scandalous accusations, and investigations into Governor Anaya’s dealings and those of members of his administration, none of which resulted in any evidence of wrong doing. Anaya recalled feeling personally victimized by Lutz who went to extreme measures to delegitimize and discredit him and his administration. “They did make life very difficult for me and for my family,” recalled Anaya: “Members of my family were investigated and I was the subject of thirteen grand juries and an IRS criminal investigation.” In fact, Anaya claims that these tactics were part of a larger, national Republican strategy to undermine minority elected officials, but in particular African American and Hispanic Democrats. Although Anaya believed in the importance of sanctuary, the proclamation was also part of his critique of and struggle against the Reagan Administration more generally.
The Sanctuary Trial
The Sanctuary Declaration was viewed as a huge victory for people involved in the Central American solidarity movement and who were engaged in sanctuary work. Although Governor Anaya had explicitly stated that the declaration was “symbolic” and held no legal authority, many people doing sanctuary work believed that the “Sanctuary State” was a reality and that the document legitimized the movement and provided them with some measure of political cover. A member of the Friends Meeting in Santa Fe, who transported three Salvadoran men from a place called Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas to Santa Fe, recalled that the Sanctuary Declaration, gave him confidence that his actions were “legal” and also created the conditions for the transport networks through New Mexico to congeal and become more organized with other groups in Arizona and Texas.
In January 1988, former Lutheran minister, Glen Thamert, and writer, Demetria Martinez were indicted on charges of violating federal immigration law in relation to transporting two pregnant Salvadoran women across the U.S.-Mexico border to a safe house in Albuquerque. In 1986, Thamert and his wife Diane traveled to El Salvador with hopes of adopting a child. The Salvadoran lawyer, Luis Ventura Rivas, who arranged the adoption of the baby girl named Norma, asked Thamert if he could help him with another case. Ventura Rivas had come in contact with two women who had been raped by soldiers and had become pregnant as a result. The women wanted to give their children up for adoption in the United States. Thamert had long been active in peace and justice activities as a social worker and hospital chaplain in Albuquerque. In his work he had come across various refugees and had learned about the atrocities being committed in Central America and the U.S. government’s role in the civil wars raging in the region. Based on his political awareness and religious convictions, Thamert decided to help the two Salvadoran women, Cecilia Elias and Ines Campos. He arranged their adoption contracts through Rainbow House International in Belen, New Mexico, bought plane tickets for the women to travel from El Salvador to Juárez, Mexico, and made plans for a “sanctuary run” to bring the women to Albuquerque to await the birth of their babies.
Thamert and free-lance journalist and poet Martinez were acquainted through their mutual interest in social justice work. Martinez wrote on religious topics for the Albuquerque Journal and the National Catholic Reporter and was working on a book of poetry when she befriended Thamert. When Martinez learned about the “sanctuary run” she thought that it would make a wonderful Christmas story, recalling the Nativity, since the women would be giving birth around that time. In July 1986, Thamert took the high road through the Gila National Forest to El Paso to pick up Cecilia and Inez with the Sanctuary Declaration in hand. Martinez traveled in a separate car to document this sanctuary activity as a journalist. Thamert paid a fifteen-year old coyote to help transport the two women across the U.S.- Mexico border into El Paso.
The Sanctuary Trial brought Anaya’s proclamation full circle. The prosecutor was none other than U.S. Attorney, William Lutz. Thamert faced one count of conspiracy, two counts of transporting and harboring illegal aliens and two counts of encouraging and inducing illegal aliens. Lutz also added a frivolous charge of mail fraud to the list, in relation to the arrangement of the adoptions. This charge was dropped early in the course of the trial. All together, Thamert faced forty-five years in prison for his “crimes of conscience.” Martinez also faced charges of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens as well as encouraging and inducing illegal aliens, adding up to a twenty-five year sentence if convicted. Although Thamert and Martinez had different defenses they were tried together. Demetria’s case was hung on the First Amendment Right to freedom of speech and the right of journalists to gather news. Thamert’s situation was more complicated. He had to prove that he did not intend to break the law by helping the Salvadoran women. His defense ultimately rested on Anaya’s Sanctuary Declaration. Thamert’s legal defense team argued that he believed that his actions were legal based on the declaration.
In contrast to other Sanctuary Trials that took place in Arizona and Texas, Judge John Conway allowed the defendants to make their case and build a defense on diverse kinds of evidence. Essentially the concept of sanctuary as a moral and political imperative had its day in court. The trial was a huge media sensation and Martinez became the spokesperson for the Sanctuary Movement in New Mexico. There are many details about the trail that are beyond the scope of this brief essay, but what is important for us here is the role of that the Sanctuary Declaration had in the decision. The jury readily acquitted Martinez based on the First Amendment. Public Defender, Tova Indriz, effectively proved that her client was engaged in news gathering even though Martinez had never published an article about what she had witnessed. Instead, she wrote a poem, “Nativity for Two Salvadoran Women,” after she became concerned that an article about them would expose the women in ways that could put them at risk. After three hours of deliberation, the Jury also acquitted Thamert on all charges based on his belief that his actions were legal in New Mexico since the Sanctuary Declaration was still in place at the time the sanctuary run occurred. The trial put the idea of the Sanctuary State to a legal test and in the end the document did hold legal weight in this case, although it could set no legal president.
During the course of the trial, Judge Conway also observed that nowhere in the document had it been stated that the declaration was indeed “symbolic.” In fact, by that time, policy guidelines had been proposed. They stated the following:
No person shall be denied benefits, opportunities, or services offered by the state on the basis of immigration status unless required by law;
Employees shall not request information or otherwise investigate the citizenship or immigration status of any person unless authorized by law;
Employees shall not report undocumented aliens to immigration officials unless engaged in criminal activities other than minor traffic offenses;
Each department secretary or agency director shall take all steps necessary to ensure that these guidelines are implemented immediately.
What is striking about the policy guidelines is that they make no mention of Central American refugees. Given these very generalized policy measures, all immigrants would benefit from and be covered under the Sanctuary Declaration. This fact brings us back to Anaya’s motivations. Did he use the sanctuary idea and the plight of Central Americans as a cover for a more comprehensive local immigration policy action that would benefit all immigrants? This question cannot be pinned down to a definitive answer, since the administrative guidelines were in draft form and were never implemented. On 9 January 1987, Republican Governor, Garrey Carruthers, rescinded the Sanctuary Declaration by executive order. Actually, the “State of Sanctuary” had a very short life--the declaration that proclaimed its existence was only in place for eight months. Nevertheless, the document had a very interesting career and had unexpected social and political implications. Traces of the Sanctuary Declaration still exist today as we have seen the proliferation of local and state-level immigration policy activism in the United States. Many of these measures have been negative, launching racist legislative assaults on immigrant communities, such as Arizona’s SB 1070. New Mexico, however, continues to run against the grain. The City of Santa Fe passed a resolution in 1999 that prohibits the use of municipal resources in the enforcement of immigration law and protects immigrants from inquires into their status. The idea of a place of sanctuary, where immigrants are included and somewhat protected from deportation endures as an on-going political project that must be continuously defended. This may be the most significant legacy of Toney Anaya’s Sanctuary Declaration.
Bibler, Susan Coutin. 1993. The Culture of Protest: Religious Activism and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement.
---------- 1995. “Smugglers or Samaritans in Tucson, Arizona: Producing and Contesting Legal Truth.” American Ethnologist 22(3): 549-71.
Colbert, Douglas L. 1986. “The Motion in Limine: Trial without Jury, A Government’s Weapon against the Sanctuary Movement.” Hofstra Law Review, 15(5): 5-78.
Crittenden, Ann. 1988. Sanctuary: A Story of American Conscience and the Law in Collision. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Cunningham, Hilary. 1995. God and Caesar at the Rio Grande: Sanctuary and the Politics of Religion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Perla, Hector and Bibler, Susan Coutin. 2010. “Legacies and Origins of the 1980s US-Central American Sanctuary Movement.” Refuge, 26(1): 7-19.
Pham, Huyen. 2006. “The Constitutional Right Not to Cooperate? Local Sovereignty and the Federal Immigration Power.” University of Cincinnati Law Review, (74): 1373-1413.
Villazor, Rose C. 2008. “What is a Sanctuary?” SMU Law Review Association, 61(133): 1-26.
 Many other cities across the nation drafted some kind of sanctuary ordinance between 1985 and 1986 such as Berkeley, St. Paul, Cambridge, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Madison, Seattle, San Jose, Ithaca, and Tacoma Park (as named in Santa Fe’s 1985 resolution). The actual resolutions of that were passed in these cities were not evaluated or compared with Santa Fe’s declaration as part of this study. Furthermore, a direct analysis of San Francisco’s declaration was beyond the scope of this paper and was therefore, cited from a secondary source (Pham 2006: 1387-88).
Staff Wire Reports. 1986. “Angry District Spurns Sanctuary.” Albuquerque Journal, 8 April.
 David Staats. 1986. “Anaya’s ‘Hoax’ of Sanctuary.” Albuquerque Journal, 2 April.
 David Staats. 1986. “Anaya, Feds Call Truce in War over Sanctuary.” Albuquerque Journal, 10 April.
 From ABC News This Week with David Brinkley transcripts. Toney Anaya Papers, Center for Southwest Research. On October 17, 1986, Anaya appeared on CBS Morning News to discuss the subject of immigration with interviewer Charlie Rose and was also interviewed by Bryant Gumbel on Good Morning America.