2019 Workshop Stakes of Sanctuary

Stakes of Sanctuary Workshop, ARTS 160

7-8 March 2019, McGill University



8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Coffee and Sustenance

9 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Welcome

Patti Lenard and Laura Madokoro

9:30 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Shannon McSheffrey, “Thinking About Medieval Sanctuary”

Discussant: Vinh Nguyen

My contribution to the Stakes of Sanctuary workshop will be to use the broad framework of ideas about sanctuary and asylum to locate ideas about confession, mercy, and redemption integral to the medieval Christian idea of sanctuary, specifically as manifested in late medieval and early Tudor England. Modern practices of sanctuary often emphasize the innocence of those who seek asylum, while ancient and medieval sanctuary was conceptually for the guilty, for offenders who sought shelter from the cruel hand of justice and a breathing space in which to make amends with their victims. I will consider not only the rhetoric of sanctuary but its strategic use by offenders, sanctuary providers, and governing officials.

10:20 – 11:05 Alexandra Délano Alonso, Sanctuary in Countries of Origin: A Historical and Transnational Perspective

Discussant: Shannon McSheffrey

While current interpretations of sanctuary are most often associated with practices to protect, support and accompany migrants with precarious status in countries of destination, debates around the concept and practice of sanctuary in countries of origin reveal different historical and contemporary understandings of sanctuary. A perspective from countries of origin, transit and return raises key questions about who sanctuary is intended for? How is its political and symbolic power different or similar to a context of destination? How can countries that face similar conditions of violence and inequality that migrants are fleeing offer a space of sanctuary? Who offers sanctuary? What does sanctuary mean for returned and deported populations when their rights are already recognized as citizens of the country they are returning to? This paper explores these questions in the case of Mexico, specifically examining the Mexico City government’s declaration as a sanctuary city—specifically for returned migrants— in April of 2017, and the La 72 shelter’s call in February of 2018 for a citizen-based declaration of the city of Tenosique, Tabasco in southern Mexico as a city of hospitality and protection for “people in a situation of forced mobility”. I analyze the conceptual and legal framework on which these declarations are based, their practical implications as well as their historical references. Given the common association of these practices with Mexico’s history of welcoming refugees from Spain in the 1940s and from South and Central America in the 1970s and 1980s I also explore the historical roots of these policies and the historical use of the concept of sanctuary (or lack thereof) in order to understand its current interpretations, the critique against it and its limitations in practice. Finally, I examine how these policies and practices have been influenced by the sanctuary movement in the United States, both in terms of government practices and responses from civil society and academic spaces.

11:05 – 11:20  Break

11:20 – 12:05 Michael Blake, Two Models of the Sanctuary City (via Skype)

Discussant: Audrey Macklin

There are a great many questions that might be asked about the nature of the sanctuary city. One of these is whether the sanctuary city ought to understand itself as permanently committed to sanctuary policies – or whether it is better understood as a temporary response to particularly unjust forms of federal policy. Another is whether the moral duties that ground sanctuary policies begin with the particular nature of the city – or whether or not these duties apply to some wider set of agents. These questions can be answered in a variety of ways; but I suggest that our answers here will cluster around two distinct models of the sanctuary city: a federal model, on which the city always has, simply in virtue of its nature as a city, moral reasons to refuse to assist in the task of deporting its citizens; and a resistance model, on which the city has these duties only in the presence of particular forms of injustice in deportation, and in which the duties are held by both cities and civic organizations more generally. This paper does not attempt to adjudicate between these two models, but instead argues that both models require philosophical exposition. The federal model could only be defended by an argument that explains why the city, rather than the federal state, ought to be the site at which questions of exclusion and crime control ought to be adjudicated. This sort of argument, I think, will be hard to make in the abstract – especially given the ways in which subsidiary jurisdictions like cities have sometimes stood in the way of morally progressive federal policies. The protest model, in contrast, requires us to become more explicit about both the goal of the protest and the right of the city government to make that sort of protest. The latter question demands an account of why the city may rightly choose to direct its coercive power so as to make a discursive point to the federal government – especially when the means chosen to make that point may involve the breaking of federal law. The former question, finally, requires us to decide whether the point of the sanctuary city is the alteration of federal policy, or simply non-compliance with that policy – neither of which, I argue, come without ethical worries of their own. I conclude by acknowledging the moral power of the sanctuary city as an ideal – but by reiterating my conclusion that an adequate defense of the sanctuary city might require us to develop philosophical resources we have left relatively undeveloped.

12:05 – 1:00 Lunch

1:00 – 1:45 Shelley Wilcox, In Defense of Sanctuary Cities

Discussant: Alejandra Délano Alonso

Over the past decade, the increased involvement of local police in facilitating the deportation of undocumented migrants has played a central role in creating a record-breaking volume of deportations from the United States. In response to this so-called deportation crisis, nearly 600 localities have enacted sanctuary policies that limit their cooperation with federal authorities on immigration matters. This paper explores three moral justifications for sanctuary policies: the public safety, civil disobedience, and collective resistance arguments. Specifically, it addresses two questions: Which justifications are available for which types of sanctuary policies? What must these justifications accomplish in order to be successful? I argue that although public safety considerations can justify some sanctuary policies, others are best understood as a form of legitimate collective resistance to unjust federal immigration and deportation policies.

1:50 p.m. – 2:35 p.m. Micah Trautmann, The Ontological and Spacial Conditions of Refuge

Discussant: Eva Meijer

What makes a space hospitable? What conditions allow a space to become one of refuge? In “Beyond Human Rights”, Giorgio Agamben arrives at the promising conclusion that a substantial locus of intervention on behalf of the refugee would be spatial — a politics of territory. His example of a Jerusalem turned inside out (extra-territorial/aterritorial) offers us a vision of the spatial conditions in which a juridical paradigm not of the “right of the citizen but rather the refuge of the singular” could be realized. The promise of this focus on the space of refuge calls us to think whether and to what extent such conditions of hospitable aterritoriality can be realized within the current global-political framework. After all, what is offered in refuge is, first and foremost, place. We must think, then, the conditions that make places hospitable. If, as we should well-recognize, the territorialization of political bodies and geographies under the binary of us/them deconditions the prospect of hospitality, then we evidently stand in need of spaces that avoid this binary, spaces that get outside the territorial paradigm of the own and the foreign. Perhaps surprisingly, I find Heidegger to be instructive here: his late readings of Antigone and Hölderlin on the question of home gesture toward what I would call the ontological conditions of hospitality — a not being fully at home that enables one to become homely for others. This perforated sovereignty, the ‘own’ that is always already shot through with the ‘foreign’, establishes a paradigm of alternative home-spaces carved out beyond or at the threshold of the of dialectic between home and exile. It is only in recognizing our own homelessness, our own exile, in deforming ourselves of any easy meaning of home, that we can give place to those without it.

2:35 – 2:50 Break

2:50 p.m. – 3:35 p.m. Vinh Nguyen, Sanctuary, Hospitality, Ethics

Discussant: Benjamin Boudou

The practice of sanctuary is a direct challenge to the state. Whether understood in the classical sense, whereby church authority overrides state authority in granting protection to a range of fugitive figures, or in more contemporary terms, in which local jurisdictions obstruct state policies to provide shelter for undocumented migrants, sanctuary is an alternate form of refuge that exists in contentious relation with the state and its apparatuses. What is being offered in sanctuary, I suggest, is hospitality that does not take legality or state-sanction as its basis or reference point. In this way, sanctuary manifests on different scales and in different sites, and is enacted by a variety of agents and subjects, including municipalities, communities, and individuals. This paper thinks through the kinds of hospitality that sanctuary makes possible, and what they illuminate about conceptions of refuge that do not require sovereign authorization. Analyzing Aki Kaurismäki’s films Le Havre (2011), about an elderly shoeshine who comes to the aid of a child migrant, this paper contemplates individual acts of sanctuary to address larger questions about ethical responsibility, hospitality’s (un)conditionality, and the politics of refuge.

3:40 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. Beatrix Hoffman, “Health Care and Sanctuary in the United States”

Discussant: Shelley Wilcox

Ten-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was detained by immigration officials in October of 2017 as she recovered from surgery in a Texas hospital. Her case attracted intense media attention (and a lawsuit from the ACLU) not only because of her youth and medical condition, but also because U.S. immigration authorities have generally avoided detaining individuals in hospitals and health facilities. However, since the Trump regime began its immigration crackdown, ICE has increasingly entered areas previously designated “sensitive locations” or “safe zones.”


This paper will examine the relationship between sanctuary and health care in the United States over the past fifty years. It defines sanctuary to include the commitment of some health professionals to provide care regardless of immigration status, and their refusal to require patients to disclose their citizenship status before treatment. Using California as a case study, I will discuss how Los Angeles County clinics’ and hospitals’ provision of care to undocumented immigrants came under fire in the 1970s, and how public health officials and providers defended these practices based on notions of medical ethics, disease prevention, and even cost control. In the mid-1990s, when the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 threatened to end immigrants’ access to public health services, medical providers also began to publicly discuss caring for immigrants in terms of justice and rights. I argue that the fight against Proposition 187 set a historical precedent for medical opposition to state anti-immigrant legislation in the 2010s, and the support of many medical organizations for sanctuary cities and “sensitive location” policies today.

4:25 – 4:45 Day one debrief / End of day logistics

8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Coffee and sustenance



9:00 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. Rebecca Schreiber, Performing Sanctuary: ‘Urgent Art’ and the ‘Embassy of the Refugee’

Discussant: Beatrix Hoffman

This paper focuses on the limits of US immigration and asylum laws, and how Central American refugee youth imagine forms of sanctuary through collaborative artwork as part of a series of “Urgent Art” workshops led by artist Caleb Duarte in Oakland, CA. The name of the workshop was meant to highlight the exigency of this artwork related to the conditions experienced by these young refugees -- most of whom were Mayan and from Guatemala -- who face life or death decisions. It also speaks to the context in which they produced this artwork, while waiting to find out if they would be granted asylum in the United States or be forced to return to Guatemala where they experienced violence as well as hunger and poverty. During the workshops, students had the opportunity to create art in different media, and to develop performances about their experiences. The workshop’s emphasis on performance relates to the position of these young refugees as actors–in the sense that they have to shift how they represent themselves from the time they leave Central America to when they enter into legal proceedings in the US -- but it also foregrounds their agency. Duarte’s emphasis on performance within the “Urgent Art” workshops presents an alternative to the testimony that they must provide the US state to qualify for asylum. Duarte's work with these students involved a critical embodiment and reimagining of their past experiences in the form of performance.


While I argue that the performances by Central American youth critique their circumstances as refugees in the U.S., I also contend that their creation of a symbolic "Embassy of the Refugee" in 2018 was a means for them to imagine an alternative space of safety and support for themselves. In this paper I also examine how workshop participants created an imaginary institution in the city of Oakland for those who have been displaced from and dispossessed of their homes and homelands. As part of the workshop, Central American refugee youth painted murals in empty lots in a section of Oakland that was being gentrified to create a safe place for refugees. The "Embassy of the Refugee" was influenced by artist Richard Bell's “Aboriginal Tent Embassy,” which was also created for members of displaced indigenous communities. As I elaborate on in the paper, this symbolic embassy was an imaginative way of narrating their displacement, but also of asserting their right to protection in response to various nation-states and international institutions failure to do so.

9:50 a.m. – 10:35 a.m. Benjamin Boudou, “Retrieving the political meaning of hospitality for sanctuary practices”

Discussant: Micah Trautmann

The concept of hospitality has seen a revival as a general obligation to welcome migrants. It can be broadly defined as the relief of distress caused by crossing borders. It was a crucial normative force driving the faith-based sanctuary movements in the 1980s, the “sans-papiers” activism in France during the 1990s, and both the humanitarian reactions to the “migrant crisis” starting in 2015, and the contemporary sanctuary practices in North-American and European cities. These recent appropriations and instantiations of hospitality beg however for a more systematic analysis of its historical background and political meaning.

First, I sketch a genealogy of the concept, identifying six ideal-types of hospitality throughout history: a social bond between households, a contract, a rite of passage, a religious duty, and a natural right. I argue then that hospitality is difficult to mobilize today in a democratic and liberal context for four reasons. (1) It remains temporary, with no guarantee that one will be able to stay, except to satisfy criteria that are always potentially more demanding. (2) The guest status assigned to the newcomer is contrary to democratic equality. (3) The “pick and choose” attitude towards potential receivers of charity or hospitality does not fit with the demands of impartiality. (4) The uncertain, partial, and exceptional character of hospitality practices may be contrary to the rule of law.

Attempting to update the concept for sanctuary practices, I show how hospitality has remained a normative resource (1) to oppose ethical responsibility to legal consideration, (2) to value the partiality of private compassion over public bureaucratic impartiality, and (3) to justify concrete acts of assistance (sometimes illegal) over the inertia of institutional responses. Paraphrasing what Michael Blake writes on mercy, hospitality appears to be a “morally- motivated refusal to do what one is, in justice, permitted to do.”

10:35 – 10:50 a.m. Coffee Break

10:50 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. Audrey Macklin, The Oppositional Politics of Sanctuary and the Collaborative Politics of Resettlement

Discussant: Shannon McSheffrey

Resettled refugees and asylum seekers (refugee claimants) occupy different places in the political imaginary of settler societies. The former are often cast as the deserving refugees, passively and patiently sitting in a queue awaiting selection for resettlement. Asylum seekers are often depicted as dangerous fraudsters, queue-jumping aggressors, and undeserving of the humanitarian conferral of refugee protection. These representations do not reflect an empirical reality about who meets the refugee definition, nor a juridical distinction between the claims of refugees to resettlement and to asylum. Rather, the resettled refugee does not disturb the sovereign prerogative to pick and choose who enters, while the asylum seeker does. Providing sanctuary to asylum seekers necessarily requires adopting an oppositional posture to the state, whereas private sponsorship of refugees necessarily involves collaboration with the state. My chapter seeks to inquire into how (if at all) these political positions relate to one another.

11:40 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. Dr. Eva Meijer, Sanctuary politics and the borders of the demos

Discussant: Patti Lenard

Early 2017 saw a re-emergence of sanctuary spaces for illegalized refugees in Europe and North America, in response to changing immigration policies. The animal sanctuary movement is also rapidly growing. Sanctuary has historically been seen as an apolitical space of safety and refuge: a place for individuals to heal from the ravages of politics. Viewing sanctuaries as apolitical however runs the risk of reproducing existing power relations, such as those between hosts and guests, and of legitimating injustices in existing democratic systems, because it mitigates them instead of correcting them. In response to this, people have recently started to explore how sanctuaries can be sites of political agency, political resistance, and redefining the demos. This is most clear in the human sanctuary movement, but we also find a movement towards a more political model of animal sanctuaries, as sites-of-citizenship. Thinking of animal sanctuaries as sites-of-citizenship is challenging, because for nonhuman animals, there is no pre-existing theory or general practice of citizenship that we can attempt to integrate into the sanctuary context. Those advocating for a more political model of animal sanctuary are however suggesting that sanctuaries are important precisely because they can provide a context in which we can develop from scratch a conception of animals-as-citizens. In my presentation I compare new nonhuman sanctuary practices to human sanctuary practices in order to investigate how the former contribute to nonhuman animals’ becoming part of the demos. I also discuss how they offer space to reflect on the exclusionary mechanisms inherent in current conceptions of democracy – with other animals. I pay special attention to political agency, (interspecies) political communication and political nonhuman animal voice.

12:25 – 1:30 Lunch and Reflections


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