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Sanctuary Convictions

May 21, 1986

I was disturbed and angered by the conviction in a federal court in Arizona of the eight Sanctuary Movement members on charges of harboring illegal aliens.

In this case it's hard to blame the jury for its decision, but it's very easy to blame the law and the judge. First of all, the law is indisputably wrong. America is a nation of immigrants. The Statue of Liberty had only stood for two years when my great grandfather saw it for the first time after immigrating from Russian-occupied Lithuania. The words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . " give me goose bumps whenever I hear them.

It is America's greatness as a bastion of freedom that causes people to risk their lives to come here and start all over. The need to immigrate here is especially important for Central Americans, who are caught in life-threatening situations in their own countries. These people just want to live their lives in peace, without being threatened by dictators and armies of the right or left.

That is why the Sanctuary Movement is so important. These principled people believe that protecting the lives of the Central Americans is far more important than obeying arbitrary U.S. immigration laws. These brave people can be compared to the operators of the "Underground Railroad," who risked their lives to harbor runaway slaves from the South before the Civil War.

The jury in Tucson didn't hear such a comparison, because the judge refused to let the defense demonstrate why the Sanctuary people did what they did. He asserted that the violation or non-violation of the law was the only question. This also is wrong.

To decide a case, a jury must know motives, not just actions. This is because the jurors can, if they choose, find defendants "not guilty" if the law itself is wrong. This doctrine of "jury nullification" was accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1895, but judges invariably choose not to inform jurors of this important option.

I believe that if the Tucson jury had known all the facts, they would have decided differently. Instead, decent people likely will go to jail for merely doing their Christian duty. How can our free institutions survive such a miscarriage of justice?


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