Christic mailer, 1984.

American Sanctuary Movement


U.S. v. Stacey Lynn Merkt, et al.

In the l980s, during the Reagan and Bush administrations, right-wing government death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador roamed the country killing thousands of people resisting U.S.-backed fascist dictatorships. People fled north seeking asylum and refugee status in the United States. U.S. immigration officials at the border were secretly instructed by the administration to detain them and send them back to their countries, where they were met and disappeared by the death squads.

The American Sanctuary Movement activated religious communities around the country to provide refuge in their churches and synagogues to the asylum seekers. Catholic workers from the Archdiocese of Brownsville, Texas—including a shelter volunteer named Stacey Lynn Merkt—were helping refugees who had been arrested and threatened with deportation.

In 1984, the Christic Institute legal team, led by chief counsel Daniel Sheehan, presented the first winning argument protecting political refugees seeking legal asylum in the U.S. in its defense of Merkt. On appeal, the Texas Federal District Court ruled in favor of the rights of political refugees who had been blocked from entering the U.S. by illegal executive branch orders. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the secret Executive Order unconstitutional, vindicating the work of the American Sanctuary Movement and saving hundreds of lives.


Other Landmark Cases

Iran Contra Affair

Under a new application of the provisions of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organizations Act (RICO), Christic brought charges against and exposed 29 people involved with the Iran-Contra Affair. (Avirgan v. Hull, et al)

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Three-Mile Island Incident

When Reactor 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suffered a partial meltdown on March 28, 1979, the Christic Institute legal team was called in to help oversee the legal proceedings and represent victims of the disaster. (PIRC v. Three Mile Island)

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Karen Silkwood

The Christic Institute won a record-setting $10.5 million judgement against the Kerr-McGee chemical company, effectively ending construction of all new nuclear power plants in the United States for 30 years. (Silkwood v. Kerr McGee)

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The Greensboro Massacre

Christic won $350,000 in damages for plaintiffs who brought suit against the City of Greensboro, North Carolina, the Greensboro police department, the KKK and American Nazi Party—a rare verdict in the southern United States. (Waller v. Butkovich)

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