Sanctuary in a Trumpist Context: Creating Spaces of Democratic Exception

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(4) 11731185
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211052493
Sanctuary in a Trumpist Context: Creating
Spaces of Democratic Exception
Kathleen R. Arnold
This paper f‌irst identif‌ies the necessity for sanctuary as a form of protest against the discretionary and often absolute
forms of power shaping the current immigration system, particularly as it affects undocumented immigrants. Although
the plenary power doctrine has removed legal personhood from immigrants at the federal level since the late 1800s,
immigrantsrightlessness and vulnerability to detention and deportation has grown since Trump was elected. It dis-
tinguishes between a sanctuary city and church-based sanctuary, holding that the latter f‌its more ancient conceptions of
sanctuary. Faith-based sanctuary is also more radical than sanctuary cities, challenging sovereign power over immigra nts
who are largely rightless. The discourse of earned citizenshipholds that undocumented immigrants must makeamends
to U.S. society and pay back taxes as well as earning the trust of the American public. In contrast, church-based sanctuary
exposes the faulty logic of such claims, educating the public about the undocumented individuals existing ties to the
community and his/her contributions. In humanizing the legal non-person, church-based sanctuary practices explode
conventional binary between citizen and foreigner, problematizing claims of merit on the one side and lack of de-
servingness or alien status on the other.
sanctuary, immigration, refugees, Constitution, plenary power, protest
As President Trump took off‌ice in 2017, issued travel
bans, temporarily suspended DACA (Deferred Action for
Childhood Arrivals), and rescinded TPS (temporary
protected status) for signif‌icant numbers of people, im-
migrant sanctuary became a subject of mainstream dis-
cussion (see Kroll-Zaidi 2020;Lasch, et al. 2018).
Advocacy for sanctuary has increased as each change, or
threat of change, has inspired fear of forced removal,
economic hardship, and the breakup of families and
communities. The Trump administrations measures
generated concerns regarding not only undocumented
individuals, but also refugee petitioners and legal per-
manent residents (see Bosniak 2018;Motomura 2018). In
particular, there were concerns that resident foreigners
would be blocked from re-entry when traveling for hol-
idays and/or that despite their visas, status could be more
easily stripped away. Although Bidensf‌irst months have
signaled hopeful change, the conditions driving sanctuary
measures remain, exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19
in detention centers.
As many have discerned, immigration policy allows
for a highly discretionary and often arbitrary set of pol-
icies and enforcement, which many think sanctuarywill
challenge (see Heeren 2015;Kanstroom 2007;Motomura
2018;Wadhia 2015). Because of the recent interest in this
subject, I would like to explain the two related and yet
distinct forms of sanctuary: sanctuary localities and faith-
based sanctuary, occurring in a house of worship (see
Lasch, et al. 2018;Preston 2017;Villazor and Cuison,
2009, 576n20). They are each important and unique forms
of protest and together, challenge the highly discretionary
and historically unjust deployment of sovereign authority
in matters of immigration. The f‌irst formwelcoming or
sanctuary localities, which I will call sanctuary locali-
tiesfor simplicitys sake (see Arrocha 2021;Hoye 2020,
85; Lasch et al. 2018, 1710)reinstates a system that
upheld the personhood rights of the 14th Amendment for
all state residents up through 1996 (see Varsanyi 2008).
That is, they treat resident foreigners as legally
DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kathleen R. Arnold, DePaul University, 990 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago,
IL 60614, USA.

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