University of Arizona

                                             Special Collections will be closed December 20, 2023 through January 1, 2024 in observance of the University Holiday break.

Sanctuary Trial Papers

Reverend John Fife and unidentified man of the Sanctuary Movement, circa 1985

The Sanctuary Movement can trace its beginnings to the early 1980s when concerned citizens such as Jim Corbett, John Fife, Phillip Conger and others began helping refugees from Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) seek political asylum. These men and others began helping refugees avoid capture by the United States Government. Jim Corbett, a Quaker, insisted that what they were doing was not "civil disobedience." He argued instead that it was "civil initiative" -- they were upholding laws regarding treatment of war refugees that the U.S. government refused to enforce.

On March 24, 1982, Southside Presbyterian under the direction of Reverend John Fife became the first church in the country to declare itself a sanctuary for Central Americans fleeing persecution. The movement quickly gained attention and acceptance. At its height, more than 200 religious orders (Christian and non-Christian) and congregations nationwide, several universities and municipalities, and more than 600 religious organizations, including the National Federation of Priests' Councils (representing more than 33,000 Catholic priests) declared themselves in favor of sanctuary.

Rejecting the claim that sanctuary was in fact upholding the law, the U.S. government moved against its leaders. In January 1985, 11 members of the Sanctuary Movement, including two Catholic priests and several religious lay workers, were indicted on alien-smuggling charges. After a six-month trial in Tucson, eight were convicted of various felonies. All received probation.

This collection is a compilation of materials received from several lawyers and local organizations that were involved in the Sanctuary Movement. As a result, there was much duplication. To assist the researcher as much as possible, duplicates were discarded and only one copy was kept. Materials received from the attorney's have been organized into the first seven series. Series eight and nine consist of materials from various organizations, and series ten is a collection of newspaper clippings maintained by the attorneys as well.