thumbnail of Nighttimes Magazine; 3119; Salvadoran Refugees; SD-Base
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
Night times is a production of channel 2. From the Times Magazine. Tonight we tell a single story a story of sanctuary provided by churches across the country including here in the Twin Cities where refugees from political persecution in Central America churches and their members who become involved in the sanctuary movement are guilty of civil disobedience. The Immigration Service estimates that there are 500000 Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees here illegally Of the tens of thousands who applied for political asylum last year. Seventy nine got it. The law in question is the Refugee Act of 1980 it says refugees seeking political asylum here must prove that they would be persecuted if they were forced to go home. And immigration official being interviewed by a reporter was
asked if being shot at was enough proof. He said being shot at is not necessarily persecution. Before the 1980 law went into effect this country almost always granted political asylum to refugees from communist countries. But the Reagan administration does not follow the same principle in the cases of people who are fleeing from right wing governments in Central America. Even though some American churches are offering a form of asylum it has no legal standing. Authorities can get warrants and go into churches and make arrests if they want to. But the Immigration Service says it has no intention of provoking a confrontation with any church. But the sanctuary movement doesn't mind provoking the government it wants to pressure the Reagan administration to stop intervening in Central America to stop forcing refugees to return home and to start offering help to those in need. Producer Sandy small and went out to document the sanctuary movement. He has followed the story since January. Here's his report. Oh. Justice is like. A temple made with
hands not merely the surface. But rather to each other. America standing together hand-in-hand in solidarity. Yes my friends the sanctity of this place. We are now. In sanctuary on March 24th Luther plays Lutheran Church in Washington D.C. gave sanctuary to Salvadorian refugees seeking political asylum in the United States an act that was in direct violation of U.S. immigration laws. That is their promised land. For the past 12 months a movement has been growing across the country as the church has become
increasingly outspoken about U.S. policy and involvement in Central America. This night that movement came of age. Three of the refugees. Have been brought across the US to be given sanctuary in Washington along with another Salvadorian who would be given sanctuary in a church outside of Chicago. They traveled on what is known as the Underground Railroad. A loose network of religious Americans helping the Salvadorians to safety in a church. You pick up the span of.
The Underground Railroad takes its name from the network of people who help escaping slaves find freedom in the north. This modern day version started up a year ago. This is its sixth trip. We were given permission to film his journey across the Midwest. The first time a television crew has been allowed to accompany the Underground Railroad and film on route. We met up with the group here in Lincoln Nebraska midway in their trip. A family from Kansas had driven the refugees from the last stop near Wichita. Over the past year many churches in the United States have begun to feel the need to respond to events in Central America and the U.S. government's involvement in those events. Increasingly that response is bringing the church into conflict with the government. Perhaps nowhere is that as pronounced than in the question of granting political asylum and sanctuary
for hundreds of thousands of Salvadorians who are fleeing the war at home. Since 1979 a bloody civil war has been raging in El Salvador. A war remarkable in the degree of brutality with which it has been fought in for years. More than 36000 civilians have been killed. And though there have been killings on both sides the vast majority of murders are attributed to the right wing death squads composed of the government's security forces. This massacre occurred on the steps of the Catholic Cathedral in San Salvador May 1979. Without warning government troops opened fire during a peaceful demonstration protesting government policies. El Salvador is a country where people are taken away in the night disappear and are
never seen again. Where bodies on the side of the road in the morning are a common sight. It's a country where there is no middle ground. You're either with the military or you're considered to belong to the rebels. This is a country where no one is safe. Nearly a million people have fled the war as many as 500000 have come to the United States. The U.S. Immigration Service views these Salvadorians not as refugees but as illegal aliens as refugees they could stay in the country until it was safe to return. This is Charles Enrique. He is 19. As illegal aliens they are subject to deportation as many as 1000 a month are being sent back. This is Carlos Domingo as he is 37. He left El Salvador and his family after two other members of the workers organization and he helped to lead were taken away and killed. It was in an effort to call attention to the government's policy of deporting the Salvadorians that churches began
providing sanctuary. This is Mario marking. He's 18. He left his country one year ago. Alberto Ortez is 20. He was not involved in politics he said but discovered his name was on a death list more than anything else these Salvadorians fear deportation. There was little hope for your life one said if you're sent back to the Underground Railroad is helping to take them to churches where they will be safe. This trip began in California where most of the Salvadorians in this country are living by the time they had reached Nebraska they had been travelling for three days working their way through Arizona New Mexico Texas Oklahoma and Kansas. We would travel with them through the Midwest. They should have something our way when we get there.
When the refugees travel here from Arizona or California or the border areas sometimes they're driven by someone who drives and cross country and other times they are driven sort of city to city relays and. Volunteers will drive into the city and meet with the new volunteers who will take them on to the next city the next city in the next city and they have overnight stops and frequently groups of people or a church group will come together and have a potluck supper with them and then the next group of volunteers will take them on eventually to their sanctuary. It is sort of a modern day underground. We have a specific historical and theological char that is to provide safe haven for people who are fleeing injustice who are fleeing war or who are afraid for their lives and who are crying out for help when they need assistance. And to me the six word program is just one way of providing that assistance.
It's saying that we will take you in and we will protect to we'll help you will you provide for you as long as it's necessary until you can go back home to safety. At the same time the Salvadorians were being helped across the Midwest. This march was held in downtown Minneapolis to commemorate Oscar Romero. A Salvadorian archbishop who was assassinated by what almost all foreign observers agree government death squads. Like many other marches held this week throughout the U.S.. It was a demonstration with strong ties to the church. And so he left his family he left
his home he left his source of security. He was the primary provider for his large family his mother and father and brothers and sisters and he left and he came to this country to be safe and that you know he's not safe here because our government would send him home. We're pleased to have given him some degree of safety so that he can speak to us and that he can tell us. What he knows. Richard London Presbyterian I'm sorry the first church in Minnesota to provide asylum for refugees in Salvador. He's introducing a young Salvadorian a church took in last December. Thank you. Thank. You. Thank you for this opportunity and for this
homage to a great hero and martyr. His only weapon was his he was the voice of those who had. I thank you because your presence here today is important to my people. We need your understanding. You probably have never known the suffering Salvadorian people are having to undergo today. We are weary of living with constant brutality where we're struggling to end such horrible deeds. You can help by bringing pressure on them that what they're doing is killing my people. I think you can help. We're going to be involved in something that might be illegal. There were members of the congregation who said we've spent our lifetime trying to teach our children to be law abiding citizens. That there were other members of the congregation who will reminded them that our obligations to God transcend our obligations to the to the country. And there's a rich
tradition in the Christian church about the civil disobedience so there were people here who said it's an important issue we need to discuss. And then that also said that civil disobedience is a sort of a last step you take. Faith we are weighed without guilt. And do not have the courage to trust in you. I think the congregations that have provided sanctuary that was initially were a corrugation is made up of people who are traditionally socially active in a kind of counterculture style. And this congregation in the wealthy western suburb of Minneapolis is surely not counterculture in the traditional meaning that we pray for the poor or the No. St. Luke's was asked to give sanctuary Tornay HURTADO by the South Side Presbyterian Church in Tucson. It was there at the sanctuary movement began just over a year
ago. By last December only four American churches had publicly provided sanctuary a church in the suburbs of Minneapolis was an important next step. The congregation here did have reservations about the illegality of the act. And in all likelihood would have debated the question for months had they not received a call from Tucson asking them to take in Renee. No. When we began the issue we were done talking about sanctuary in the abstract shall we do this thing. And before we reached our decision the people in Tucson told us about Rene and that they wanted him to come here and they wanted us to provide sanctuary for him. So we had some data about this human being and why he fled from El Salvador and what his problems were here. And that changed the the whole tenor of the conversation. We were no longer debating a philosophical point. Should a Christian community violate the law we were talking about will we say yes
or no to this human being who needed somebody somebody to provide a safe place for him so he could tell his story. When in this to them being the you that I mean my wish is to help my people. Having been a member of the military I am able to tell the foundations of the death squads are within the government security forces that is policeman who go out at night in civilian clothes to kidnap people in order to kill them. I know because I was there and I've had friends who belong to the death squads too. My life was in way injured because I had been expelled from the Army. I was expelled because I was disobeying orders because I said it was not right because I could not agree with the injustice that is being committed in the army. And look I
disobeyed the order of chopping someone's head off of them. That was one of the orders I disobeyed. In my country one is afraid and that is what I no longer have a fear. You ask when did I become aware of what was going on. But you should ask when did I lose my fear and say what we are doing is wrong. The same network of people that brought Rene HURTADO to Minnesota is helping the four Salvadorians travel east to where they'll be given sanctuary in Chicago and Washington because the Salvadorians in this country are not recognized as political refugees but instead as illegal aliens. It is as illegal to help them on route as it is to provide them with asylum. Yet these are not the kind of people normally prone to breaking the law in some ways it's really hard to make the decision that I'm going to do something that can be construed by some. As against the law. It's a very
scary thing to do. And it's a very scary decision to make and it's a very scary decision to talk. Yet. The other option is to just turn my back. When you consider the risks that the Salvadoran families themselves are taking by trying to flee and the prices that they have already paid I think that the risk to someone such as myself is quite small but that we must take rooms between Omaha and Des Moines Iowa. Mario Carlos and Alberto talked about why they had left their country. They asked that their faces be masked and that their real names not be used like almost all the refugees seeking asylum. They have a terrible fear of being identified. They are speaking out against their government to be recognized would jeopardize the lives of their families back home. Carlos I'm
only one among hundreds of thousands of Salvadorians wrists along the way. A lot of Salvadorians that have been lost their lives trying to reach a place where they can live without the psychological war and terror that there is at the door. I am 18 years old. My name is Mario and I left the door in 1982. I would not have left my country was not of the situation it is in. They were not after me to kill me but I had reached the age where I would have had to join the government forces and fight for them or else I would have to join the other side. I came here so I would not have to fight for either side. My situation was not as bad as many I was able to leave the country legally. I found in El Salvador Mexico for 4000 Colonus one thousand dollars from Mexico we came illegally into the United States. I'm 20 years old and I left because at this age it is
dangerous to live in El Salvador and that is why a lot of young people are leaving the country. When I left El Salvador and degree with the government it was fair game to be killed. Hiding after two of my fellow workers were murdered. If I hadn't died I would be giving my testimony because 50 days later security guards in civilian clothes appeared in a Volkswagen with machine guns and I found out they were looking for me. I decided I must leave the country. Just no more common in El Salvador to find people dead in the streets than it is to find an animal run over. It used to be that you could walk freely down the street. But now over time you go out you are risking your life. In my country. Sometimes you must leave in order to keep on living. This is. And this is.
At a home in Des Moines Iowa. These people from several different churches are providing a meal and a place to sleep for the night. Yeah. There is a secondary purpose to the Underground Railroad by bringing as many people as possible into contact with the refugees and letting them hear the stories these Salvadorians have to tell. It is a trip that makes many converts. Why do you want to transform. The man's life and there is no way. Thank you very slick but
we're just human. I mean I think like this. Just before dawn early the next morning the trip got underway. I think. There's an underlying urgency to this journey. They are trying to get the Salvadorians to their destinations as quickly as possible. Or Jesus thank You for this. Good morning. Or this is a really gathering all of us as brothers and sisters in Christ see to know what your will is and what your way is for this particular teacher.
Guide us through the Spirit as we discuss and dialogue and try to determine the way for this church Lord in this day around this critical issue. We pray it in your name amen. Call man and grab a cup of coffee and be seated. I think what we'll try to do is so we don't have to so we'll have so just a modicum of form is beginning to go through. If it's agreeable to everyone just begin to go through the resolutions one through six and knowing what kind of action is appropriate to take has not been an easy decision for many churches for the past four months colonial church of a diner has been debating whether to provide sanctuary and whether as a church it should be taking a position on the events in Central America. At the Sunday meeting the Overman one of the church's pastors is leading a discussion about a set of proposals soon to be voted on by the entire church.
We could have a group organized at Colonial to do something and not me in the name of Colonial which puts the church that may be dodging the issue. If we're going to get something that we're going to use our power as a church body then we've got to try to find some consensus on one two and three that it involves us in the political scene because that's where we could be most effective. That what Central America needs. It needs some sympathy and praying and food and some specific relief type things that churches generally do. But before the situation's going to change very much it needs more direct action between I think church and our government to change that. Some of the government policies in that area where. This resolution is read. But it sure was issue a Fermi or a movie and you only go on and how can we as a church push people who will be the law and try to do things properly. Actually
condone or approve a new illegal act. Well I suppose they do it the same way more than a dozen other churches and you know it's very difficult to define and describe but I think in this church there are people that represent a lot of different a lot of different commitments. And how do you apply that together. And how do you write even more how do you move it along. I don't know how many people can in a congregation or even in this congregation come to the realization that one can even sometimes one must act contrary to the policies of the government. But I think. All Christians and certainly we here at a colonial church feel the faith of our own faith must be number one in our life and in our priority. That means above our politics above our economic sometimes even above our government.
We've heard the cry for help. From brothers and sisters in Christ south of the border. And we've heard some of them even say our government is your misguided You know its policies relative to Central America. That's the particular dilemma. For a church in America. In Davenport Iowa a new set of cars and drivers is getting ready to take the Salvadorians on to a small church outside of Chicago. There are no churches here providing asylum but there are a number of people who regularly help the underground railroad along the way. In Chicago Charles Enrique will be given sanctuary by a Methodist church just outside the city. Carlos and Alberto. After traveling for seven days and covering more than 3000 miles will be given sanctuary at Luther place Church in Washington. A church eight blocks from the White House on that same day.
Fourteen other American churches will announce that they too will offer sanctuary to Salvadorian refugees. Right. You are old and we are very honored that you have
come to this house. You're in. The house of the Lord. And in that spirit we pledge ourselves as a congregation and I myself was a pastor. We will do everything possible here and to make sure our good friends are in the freedom and your well-being as our guest. We want you to be at home with us. And I would like to with this embrace you walk from the Luther place Washington D.C. And through this and fire into religious communities that are your family.
Nighttimes Magazine
Episode Number
Salvadoran Refugees
Contributing Organization
Twin Cities Public Television (St. Paul, Minnesota)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/77-76f1wqjc).
Episode Description
Nighttimes Magazine is a show about diversity, current events and talking to everyday people about everyday problems.
Broadcast Date
Local Communities
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producer: Georgianna Day
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Twin Cities Public Television (KTCA-TV)
Identifier: C-11382 (tpt Protrack Database)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Dub
Duration: 00:27:00?
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Nighttimes Magazine; 3119; Salvadoran Refugees; SD-Base,” 1983-04-15, Twin Cities Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “Nighttimes Magazine; 3119; Salvadoran Refugees; SD-Base.” 1983-04-15. Twin Cities Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: Nighttimes Magazine; 3119; Salvadoran Refugees; SD-Base. Boston, MA: Twin Cities Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from