Leaders of 11 Washington area Christian churches providing sanctuary for Central American refugees lashed out yesterday at the "mockery" of justice made by the conviction of eight Sanctuary Movement workers in Tucson and vowed to increase their efforts to shelter Guatemalans and Salvadorans here.
They also brushed aside a warning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Reno, who prosecuted the case, that the movement is based on "felonious acts" that the government cannot ignore.
"We were warned a few thousand years before him -- King Herod issued such a warning against harboring refugees and forced the Holy Family to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's death squads aimed at the Baby Jesus," said the Rev. John Steinbruck, pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church, the first church in Washington to provide sanctuary to Central Americans.
"That we happen to be in the holy season of Passover week is a reminder of the need to shelter refugees. The Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Justice Department and the Reagan administration are not going to rewrite the Bible as far as we're concerned," Steinbruck said in an interview after a news conference held at his church by movement leaders to decry the verdict. "We're simply going to keep our doors open to those who need help."
Reno won convictions Thursday against eight of 11 defendents, including two Roman Catholic priests, a nun and a Presbyterian minister. He called members of the Sanctuary Movement in 240 churches and several cities nationwide "well-intentioned but misguided."
Sanctuary Movement members contend that the trial, which began Oct. 22, was unfair because the defendants were not allowed to testify about what motivated them to harbor persons whom they say are seeking political asylum but the government classifies as economic refugees.
"This trial made a mockery of judicial processes in the U.S. court system," said Rev. Philip Wheaton, director of the Ecumenical Program for Inter-American Communication and Action and chairman of the D.C. Metropolitan Sanctuary Committee, which represents the 11 churches. "The judge went so far as to substitute his own words and phrases for murder, rape, torture and disappearance that the Central Americans suffered so that the jury wouldn't be prejudiced by the facts."
According to Carmen Monico, 24, coming to this country with the help of sanctuary workers was her only hope. She left her Salvadoran village four years ago after a "death squad" ransacked her house, frightening her mother and infant daughter, Karla.
Yesterday she said, "We cannot be covered up by any threats from the Reagan administration. Even though it was not taken into account for the trial in Tucson , our testimony must be heard because it's talk about reality and that gives the sanctuary workers strength to even receive this kind of sentence."