March 19, 1987.
On the front lawn of a church in Santa Rosa, California,
several dozen people—including me—gathered to welcome the Northwest
Coast section of a national caravan of Central American refugees and solidarity
workers. The refugees were undocumented immigrants who were at risk of
being deported from the United States to face violence in their home coun-
tries and, by traveling with them, the solidarity workers sought to provide a
measure of protection. The refugees were undocumented because they were
part of a mass displacement of civilians that had been generated by civil wars
between left- leaning insurgents and right-wing governments in El Salvador
and Guatemala. Victims who fled to the United States were rarely able to get
visas to enter legally and so were undocumented. Although they could apply
for asylum after they came to the United States, such petitions were generally
denied due to U.S. military and economic support for the very governments
the refugees had fled. So, to raise public consciousness about the violence being
perpetrated in Central America, U.S. involvement in that violence, and Central
Americans’ need for refuge, Central American and U.S. solidarity workers had
resorted to such tactics as organizing caravans and establishing sanctuaries for
Central American asylum seekers. Participants in such activities ran legal risks.
Undocumented Central Americans could be detected and deported, while U.S.
citizens could be prosecuted on migrant- smuggling charges, as had occurred
the previous year in Tucson, Arizona. Nonetheless, the mood that March