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Abstract

In this article, I examine the different constructions of deserving subjects in the new Sanctuary Movement and how sexuality, gender, whiteness, and class create an ostensibly inclusionary agenda that produces ghostly others. Punitive anti-immigrant legislation in the United States has incited mass protests to defend the rights of undocumented migrants. In 2007 this pro-immigrant movement sought to deploy the sanctuary strategy as practiced in the Central American Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s. Using the case of Sulma Franco, a Guatemalan lesbian who was granted Sanctuary by the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, I illuminate the limitations of deservingness under sanctuary religious discourses. Such constructions rely on a particular “tellability” scripted to bearing witness, evoking empathy from faith-based audiences and conforming to heteronormative or homonormative ideas of gender and sexuality. Therefore, I use Maria Lugones theory of the coloniality of gender to expose how sanctuary constructions of deserving subjects lack decolonial and intersectional lenses of race, gender and sexuality liberation. I draw on two stories that were not tellable under sanctuary discourses to demonstrate how constructing the Guatemalan lesbian as the new deserving refugee erases indigeneity because the U.S. only recognizes gender when embodied by a non-indigenous, middle class, educated woman like Franco. It is imperative to use Franco's story to critique the restructuring of LGBTQ identity politics that evoke empathy and repackage essentialist logics of deserving sanctuary. If left uninterrupted these new constructions of deserving sanctuary will further disappear those ghostly others such as indigenous men and women, whose subjectivities and narratives are already in the shadows.

Note on the Author

Dr. Maria Elena Vargas is an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Sacramento. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from University of Maryland-College Park. Her work focuses on transnational and decolonial approaches that challenge the impunity of racialized feminicides or hyper-sexualized racial violence towards indigenous women in Guatemala. Her areas of specialization include Central American studies, Women and Gender studies and Decolonial studies. Address correspondence to the author at vargas@csus.edu.

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