Lesson Plan

Sanctuary Cities: An Uproar That Began Long Ago - Mini Lesson


This 12-minute video looks at how as deportations of unauthorized immigrants rose under President Donald Trump, some churches and cities declared themselves sanctuaries and shielded migrants from immigration enforcement. It was the latest chapter of a movement with a long history.


Students will:

  • Examine the principles of sanctuary cities, and analyze perspectives on this contentious topic.
  • Compare and contrast the resistance to immgration policy in the 1980s and the contemporary debate over sanctuary cities.
  • Articulate a reasoned position on whether sanctuary cities should be allowed to shield migrants from immigration enforcement.
  • Social Studies
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
  • Migration and Immigration
  • The Modern Era (1980-Present)
  • Donald Trump
  • Human Rights
  • Criminal Justice
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • Domestic Policies
  • Civic Engagement
  • Law
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

As the Trump administration began to aggressively enforce the nation’s immigration laws, churches and cities across the country declared themselves sanctuaries and pledged to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. This was the latest resurgence of a movement that started more than 30 years ago, when hundreds of churches defied the government to protect undocumented immigrants from Central America.

In the early 1980s, thousands of Central American refugees fleeing civil wars and political violence crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of them made it to Tucson, where a Presbyterian minister named John Fife helped them apply for political asylum. When Fife realized that the U.S. government routinely denied the migrants’ asylum claims, he helped start a modern day underground railroad. He and a small group of church workers and others smuggled migrants across the border and gave them sanctuary in churches. Soon hundreds of churches and synagogues joined in what became a nationwide sanctuary movement. The movement sparked an ongoing national conversation about the tensions between religious beliefs and the law.

Essential Questions

  • What does it mean to provide sanctuary? How has the process of shielding undocumented immigrants from immigration enforcement changed from the 1980s to today?
  • What justifications are used to support defying immigration law? What limits should there be on the right to exercise civil disobedience?

Lesson Procedure

This mini-lesson consists primarily of comprehension and discussion questions.

Questions for students:

  • Why have some churches been used as places of sanctuary against immigration enforcement?
  • How did John Fife become involved in helping migrants? What were his justifications for the actions he took?
  • According to A. Melvin McDonald, what was the position of the federal government when it came to immigration enforcement and the actions of churches that shielded migrants?
  • How does the modern sanctuary city movement compare to what you saw in the 1980s, as depicted in the film?
  • John Urquhardt, the King County sheriff, made the case for sanctuary cities from a law enforcement perspective. What are his views? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  • How did the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was fatally shot in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant in 2015, influence the sanctuary cities debate?
  • Some church leaders and local officials view the designation of sanctuary cities as a way to push back against the enforcement of unjust laws. What are the arguments for and against this type of civil disobedience?
  • Have students respond to this topic by using a writing or discussion prompt like this one: “Local governments or houses of worship should/should not be allowed to refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement because ____.”

Additional Resources

Transcript for "Sanctuary Cities: An Uproar That Began Long AgoRetro Report 
How sanctuary cities work, and how Trump’s blocked executive order could have affected themThe Washington Post 
"Sanctuary” JurisdictionsAlbany Law School 

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.

Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.

Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.

Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.

Explain how the perspectives of people in the present shape interpretations of the past.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com