Founded in 1982, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant is dedicated to offering sanctuary, solidarity, support, community organizing assistance, advocacy, and legal services to those escaping war, terror, political persecution, intolerance, exploitation, and other expressions of violence.
- Refugee Rights Program
- Affirmative Asylum
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)
- Permanent Residency
- Community Development and Education (CDE)
EBSC’s asylum program, one of the largest in the country, and with a 97% grant approval rate, continues to successfully provide legal status to individuals fleeing persecution.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE EAST BAY SANCTUARY COVENANT
On March 24, 1982, the people of five Bay Area congregations and one in Arizona, despite the risk of arrest and imprisonment, publicly declared their commitment to provide Sanctuary for the 60,000 Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees fleeing violence and persecution by their own governments. It was the second anniversary of the assassination of the Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, victim of the death squads, who died for his courageous stand against the oppressive government of El Salvador, a regime unfortunately supported by our own government.
By 1986, East Bay Sanctuary had grown to a 31 member organization whose mission was to “protect, support, and advocate” on behalf of Central American refugees, to end the military aid to both governments, and to educate the public about the reasons the refugees were requesting a safe haven. EBSC maintained a dual focus of responding to the needs of recently arrived refugees and supporting and protecting the rights of people persecuted in sending countries.
For many congregations, the declaration of sanctuary was a symbolic act. Congregations that received a refugee family, or a refugee “into sanctuary” provided them with housing, direct services, and employment. Several congregations raised funds to secure the release of refugees detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and helped them apply for political asylum through our jail visitation program. Once refugees in detention were identified, staff, volunteers, and community members formed “circles of refuge” to raise bond money to release them from detention, and to educate the wider public about their plight in an alien land.
To assist those living under oppressive regimes, EBSC monitored and protested human rights abuses, established sister parish communities, and provided “accompaniment”–international presence to support efforts of reparation. In May of 1982, EBSC established the Central American delegation program, sending the first group to visit refugee camps in Honduras, to Mesa Grande, with 12,000 refugees, Colamoncugua, 8,000, San Antonio, 5000, and El Tesoro, 600 indigenous Guatemalans. Later delegations traveled to El Salvador and to the Mexican border, where refugees were detained, and to U.N. refugee camps, in Southern Mexico, populated mostly by indigenous Guatemalans.
Advocacy involved working with sending countries by efforts to eliminate the very causes of the plight of refugees. This meant working with both the Bay Area sanctuary congregations and congregations all over the U.S. to change U.S. foreign policy and end the military aid to El Salvador and Guatemala. It was a tremendous challenge, both through the legislative process and through nonviolent action to achieve that goal. Although peace accords were signed in El Salvador in 1989, an in Guatemala in 1992, most asylum seekers were denied relief. New methods of advocacy were adopted as immigration policy changed.
EAST BAY SANCTUARY COVENANT TODAY
Today EBSC has evolved into one of the most effective organizations providing free or low cost immigration legal assistance in the larger Bay Area and beyond. It is one of the few organizations that provides walk-in services. EBSC continues to serve and advocate for many of the same asylum seekers it helped in the eighties, most of whom are still awaiting relief, and have been working legally here for the past 20 years. In addition, EBSC has expanded its mission to respond to the needs of asylum seekers from over 60 countries in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
In keeping with our original covenant of sanctuary, EBSC recognizes the need to combat widespread hostility towards immigrants, to educate the public about why asylum seekers and immigrants flee here, to advocate for laws that treat immigrants and asylum seekers fairly, and to work for peace and social justice in sending countries. Transformative Education is the name EBSC ascribes to outreach activities ranging from counseling, advocacy, organizing community events, attending rallies, networking with sister organizations, giving presentations in churches, unions, schools. It covers also our Solidarity work, such as our Haiti Committees, Haiti Sanctuary Support Committee, and Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF) that work to support grassroots empowerment in Haiti including Sopudep high school and Unifa, the University of the Aristide foundation, and a youth radio station, Radio Timoun. Our solidarity work and legislative advocacy are interconnected.
Transformative Education Program refers also to the volunteering experience and the educational programs that connect our mostly diverse volunteers, interns, congregations, and the community at large with our refugee/immigrant population. These connections transform not only the lives of the refugees in our midst, but our own lives, as the experience of asylum seekers can cause us to rethink our roles as advocates and instruments of social change. Our website (formerly the Exodus) is another vehicle to connect our work and the experiences of refugees/immigrants within the community.
EBSC’s Refugee Rights Program, our largest program with a staff of 5 attorneys and 15 paralegals provides a variety of legal immigration services, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Unaccompanied Minors (UUM), Permanent Residency, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). We have large programs to assist refugees applying for permanent residency and citizenship as well as Family Unity Petitions.
EBSC also includes an Affirmative Asylum program. Affirmative asylum is for those in the U.S. who have not been detained by Immigration. For several years we filed 500 asylum cases in a year. Our asylum coordinator wanted to cut back, but a visiting professor from Georgetown Law doing research on post asylum benefits was astounded at the number of clients and stated that EBSC had the largest asylum program in the country. We continue to file about 500 cases a year but with the tsunami of minors at the border we added another 150 cases a year. Most of the Unaccompanied Minors are from three Central American countries (see blog post Children’s Exodus Not Our Problem). The UMs are in flight from gang violence, racism, domestic violence, etc. We have a marvelous success rate. We win over 98% of our cases.
Our asylum clients are mainly, perhaps 75%, from Latin America. Although the President states that most Latinos who cross the border illegally are rapists and murderers, we find that our clients are victims of rape and fleeing from murderers, often from militaries sponsored and trained by the US. We also represent clients from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
We represent close to 300 LGBT clients, 100 indigenous Guatemalans, 75 victims of domestic violence, and a handful of people fleeing from political persecution, female circumcision, forced marriage, and religious persecution. Approximately 80% of these clients are victims of rape and need therapy. We work with a number of therapists but hardly enough to fulfill this need.
In 2006, with the support of the Zellerbach foundation, EBSC launched our Community Development and Education Program (CDE) to empower EBSC’s clients through educational and leadership training, community outreach, and civic participation. CDE attempts to address the deep social and economic inequalities that continue to affect this community even when they are fortunate enough to be granted legal status. Refugees who reside here legally often run into social problems, such as unemployment, inadequate health services, inaccessible educational services, discrimination, and homelessness. To address these issues, CDE designs programs, such as the Citizenship program, ESL, and others geared toward reducing social inequalities and focusing on capacity building. The critical goal of this program is to empower our clients to access the programs they need to live full, healthy, vibrant lives, and to provide them with the tools to be their own voice.
East Bay Sanctuary Covenant’s Statement
On President Trump’s Executive Order To Ban Immigrants and Refugees From Entering the United States
February 1, 2017
The Sanctuary Movement was born out of the terrible civil wars and genocide in Central America in the 1980s. East Bay Sanctuary was a dedicated part of that faith-based movement. For 35 years we have provided support and solidarity to people from all over the world fleeing persecution. The current wave of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia in the United States only strengthens our resolve to continue our work on behalf of refugees and immigrants.
We condemn the Executive Orders on immigration issued by President Trump, whose supposed purpose is to make our country safer, but in reality make us less safe and more fearful. These Executive Orders are first steps toward a closed and exclusive society. Our goal will always be to achieve an open and inclusive society in the United States and the world.
Attention DACA Applicants:
- California Residents do not need to pay for DACA service fees through EBSC.
- Qualifying Oakland residents further do not need to pay for USCIS DACA application fees.
- Here is more information on what DACA can do for you.
- Click Here to Make a DACA Appointment