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  • Sovereignty and SanctuaryA Roundtable
  • Rafael A. Martínez (bio) and Rebecca M. Schreiber (bio)

In spring 2018, we organized a roundtable, "Sovereignty and Sanctuary," at the Outpost Performing Space in Albuquerque in response to the current administration's attempt to withdraw the minimal protections for undocumented youth living in the United States put in place by DACA, and to the increase in deportations of immigrants and refugees. We were interested in placing contemporary issues regarding immigration in conversation with the work of Native activists who have been involved with challenging the efforts of the current administration to build a border wall at the US-Mexico boundary, separating members of Native communities, including the Tohono O'odham. By putting together this roundtable, we wanted to decenter the US nation-state's assertion of sovereignty over and against Indigenous peoples and instead emphasize Indigenous perspectives that call attention to what some view as the illegitimate occupation of the United States.

The panelists spoke from the perspective of a range of Native nations and people organizing around migration and against the criminalization of undocumented people. They also represented a range of different movements, including activists associated with the faith-based sanctuary movement with roots in the refuge provided by churches to Central Americans fleeing wars in the 1980s, undocumented youth involved with United We Dream, Native scholars and activists affiliated with the Red Nation and Tohono O'odham Hemajkam Rights Network (TOHRN), as well as students and faculty who founded the Sanctuary Campus Working Group at University of New Mexico in 2016. Panelists included Jennifer Marley, Red Nation; Eduardo Esquivel, New Mexico Dream Team; Professor Jennifer Denetdale, American Studies Dept., UNM; Professor Irene Vasquez, Chicana and Chicano Studies and American Studies Depts., UNM; Nellie Jo David, Tohono O'odham environmental justice activist and member of TOHRN; and Daniel Vega, New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice (NMFCIJ).

Seeking to develop further dialogue between scholars and activists working within these diverse movements to challenge state and colonial borders, we posed [End Page 141] the following questions to the presenters: (1) How do you define sovereignty and sanctuary? (2) How do these two terms and ideas intersect? (3) What impact does the linking of the concepts of sanctuary and sovereignty have for academic research as well as social movement organizing? The discussion thus focused on the meanings of sovereignty for Native nations and that of sanctuary within the migrant justice movement. Panelists who spoke about the sanctuary movement note that it developed in response to US interventions that intensified instability and forced relocation from countries in Central America. Activists involved in this movement attempt to provide sanctuary to refugees entering the US who would otherwise be kept out due to exclusionary asylum laws. Panelists also addressed how the current sanctuary movement challenges restrictive immigration laws and border policies that place limits on the movement of migrants as well as refugees' ability to apply for asylum. Migrant justice activists emphasize both the possibilities as well as the limits of "sanctuary" under the constraints of these laws and policies.

Native scholars and activists discussed competing ideas of sovereignty from the perspective of the US state as opposed to those of Native nations, while critiquing the settler colonial context of the US. They also emphasized the need for Native nations to assert their sovereignty against the US nation-state and US border imperialism, which divides not only members of Native nations, but also US Latinx communities and Latinx migrants from Mexico and Central America.

The event also featured a discussion across the two concepts of sovereignty and sanctuary as well as between scholars and activists working within these movements. Jennifer Marley noted that the movement for tribal sovereignty should be in solidarity with migrants and refugees, a point echoed by panelist Eduardo Esquivel. These connections were further developed by Irene Vasquez, who commented that the statement "justice comes from the people" can be applied to both the sanctuary movement as well as movements for tribal sovereignty.

The panelists used the terms "sovereignty," "sanctuary," and "settler colonialism" to discuss the potential linking of these concepts and ideas across activist spaces. Taking cues from activism and organizers, such as...


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