News Coverage of the Grand Rapids Center American Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s

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This is the second story dealing with the Central American Sanctuary Movement that existed in Grand Rapids. The first story provided an overview of the Grand Rapids Movement.

There was limited news coverage of the Grand Rapids Sanctuary house, which was part of the Central American Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s.

We were able to identify three separate news stories (archived here), one from the fall of 1986, just prior to the public declaration by Koinionia House that it was declaring itself a Sanctuary and two stories in late 1987, months after the first political refugees had arrived seeking sanctuary.

The Grand Rapids Press article in the fall of 1986, was brief, but did provide some contextual information about the US Government’s crack down on the Sanctuary Movement in the Southwest part of the country. Religious workers in Arizona had been arrested and sentenced to more than a year in prison for providing sanctuary to undocumented political refugees fleeing El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s.

Koinonia House had declared itself a sanctuary in the fall of 1986 and welcomed the first political refugees in the spring of 1987. Initially housed at the Koinonia House, the group was able to secure a second house in Grand Rapids, which was then turned over to the families that had fled the violence in their home country of Guatemala.

The two stories from the fall of 1987 appeared in the now defunct West Michigan Catholic Reporter and the Grand Rapids Magazine.

Both stories provided some insight into the concrete kind of work involved in being a sanctuary, but the Grand Rapids Magazine actually ran 2 separate pieces, one about the larger Sanctuary Movement and the other one about what was happening at the Koinonia House in Grand Rapids. In both the Catholic newspaper and the GR Magazine, those involved in the Sanctuary Movement were given a significant amount of space for commentary.GRBJ Sanctuary Cover

The coverage in these stories also helped to put a human face on those involved as well as provide solid political context for the work. This last point is important, since one of the goals of the Central American Sanctuary Movement was to get the stories of the political refugees out in order to change US policy towards countries like El Salvador and Guatemala.

Unfortunately, there was no further coverage of the Sanctuary Movement in Grand Rapids, even those it lasted until the mid-1990s. The lack of coverage was not a surprise, especially if it questioned US foreign policy, a point we will explore in the next article.

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