Skip to content Skip to navigation

Three tips for talking about #SanctuaryEverywhere

Media Uncovered  |  By Carly Goodman, Feb 7, 2017
Denver congregation creates sanctuary

Activists, congregation members, and friends gather as the First Unitarian Society of Denver welcomes Arturo Hernandez Garcia into sanctuary.

Photo: AFSC / Gabriela Flora

Sanctuary talk has been all over the media during the recent wave of anti-immigrant executive orders. As part of AFSC’s #SanctuaryEverywhere project, our team conducted a media analysis to understand how the mainstream media has framed the issue of sanctuary in the news, including in USA Today, Washington Post, MSNBC, CBS News, NPR, Fox News, Los Angeles Times, CNN, and The New York Times. We reviewed 126 stories and transcripts published between September and December 2016, tracking how different outlets talked about sanctuary and how that changed over those tumultuous three months. Our analysis shows that now is a good time to talk about sanctuary, drawing on shared values, using inclusive language, and seizing the moment.

We found that, before election day in November 2016, coverage of sanctuary tended to be pretty negative, with stories linking sanctuary city policies to crime. Yet, high immigration is actually linked to a decrease in crime, and the majority of Americans (regardless of political party) believes that unauthorized immigrants are not more likely to commit serious crimes. But the media’s pre-election coverage of sanctuary cities, with its focus on crime, meant that some polls showed public opposition to sanctuary.

The election, however, changed how the media covered sanctuary. Instead of focusing on a non-existent link between sanctuary and crime, most stories after the election focused on cities’ announcements that they intend to continue sanctuary policies. Moreover, the media began to cover a broader sanctuary movement, with stories appearing on efforts to establish sanctuary campuses, and faith congregations’ efforts to provide haven for individuals targeted for deportation. Cities have also used the term sanctuary more boldly, using language that recognized immigrants’ humanity. The media’s coverage of mayors and municipal officials declaring their support for humane treatment of all people helped convey a broader, stronger sense of what sanctuary means, linking the fates of America’s cities with their resistance to what could be dehumanizing, destabilizing immigration policies of the next administration.

Given the dramatic change in this media coverage, activists, city residents, immigrants, and allies have an opportunity right now to establish sanctuary everywhere - in our families, neighborhoods, schools, churches, cities, states, and all kinds of spaces. Here are some tips on how to talk about sanctuary in ways that will resonate:

  • Tip #1: Lead with values. Sanctuary is about standing together to ensure that every member of our community is respected and welcomed. In the month after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented more than 1,000 hateful incidents across the country. Sanctuary is about individuals and communities proclaiming that harassment, hate crimes, and inhumane policies are unacceptable to us. We are all in this together.
  • Tip #2: Use inclusive language. In pre-election coverage, media stories that linked sanctuary cities to immigrant criminality, however unfounded that link actually is, undermined public support for sanctuary. Research has shown that immigration coverage that taps into “us versus them” thinking undermines support for humane policies. But as Mayor Bill de Blasio said in November to defend New York City’s sanctuary status, “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community,” referring to an estimate of the number of unauthorized immigrants living in New York. “We are not going to tear families apart.” #SanctuaryEverywhere addresses all vulnerable members of our communities - read more here.
  • Tip #3: Seize the moment. The new administration's policies and rhetoric on immigration is at odds with what the majority of Americans believe. Sanctuary – in cities, neighborhoods, congregations, schools, and elsewhere – is a key way of resisting the administration’s unjust and inhumane agenda. Just as the Sanctuary Movement of the early 1980s was focused on providing haven to individuals in order to protest the unjust foreign policy of the Reagan administration, #SanctuaryEverywhere not only signals that we are motivated by love, but that we are resisting hate.