Lost in Translation: The Meaning of Sanctuary for Immigrants in the U.S. and Germany

Beverly Crawford Ames

University of California at Berkeley

Beverly Crawford Ames was a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow in mid April - mid June 2019. She is Professor emerita of Political Science and Political Economy at the University of California at Berkeley and is the former Director of Berkeley’s Center for German and European Studies. She has written on German foreign policy, ethnic and religious conflict, international trade and security, the European Union, globalization, regionalism, and topics in international relations theory. In 2015 she received fellowships from the Turkish National Science Foundation and from the European Commission to study the demographics of the refugee crisis in Turkey and Europe, and became an “accidental volunteer” aiding Syrian refugees on the streets of Izmir.  In 2016 she was a Senior Fellow at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin where she worked on a project on refugee integration in Germany for BAMF, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. In 2017 she taught a course on the Global Refugee Crisis at the University of Haifa.  Her most recent publications are "Merkel III: From Committed Pragmatist to ‘Conviction Leader’?" with Ludger Helms and Femke Van Esch, German Politics, Vol. 27, Issue 3, 2018; "The Euro, The Gold Standard, and German Power: A Cautionary Tale," with Armon Rezai, German Politics and Society, Issue 125 Vol. 35, No. 4 (Winter 2017): 77–104; and "Moral Leadership or Moral Hazard? Germany's Response to the Refugee Crisis and its Impact on European Solidarity” forthcoming in Crisis, Resilience and the Future of the EU (working title - editors Akasemi Newsome, Marianne Riddervold, Jarle Trondal), Palgrave Macmillian, 2019.

During her fellowship at AICGS, Dr. Crawford Ames will examine the representation of migrants and the role of  misinformation, exaggeration, distortion of facts,  and fabricated content about them in both social and mainstream media as important factors explaining the rise of right-wing extremism in both Germany and the United States. 

The American concept of “sanctuary cities” for asylum seekers is foreign—and somewhat incomprehensible—to Germans. In the United States, “sanctuary jurisdictions” are relatively few, and they are established to protect immigrants from what they see as inhumane immigration policies of the federal government.

In contrast, the current German position is to offer sanctuary to all those seeking asylum, regardless of how they enter the country. German immigration law treats all cities and villages throughout the country as sanctuary jurisdictions, guaranteeing human rights for immigrants fleeing violence and persecution. Indeed, if asylum seekers do not cooperate with federal authorities, their welfare benefits are reduced, but they are rarely detained. Threatened with immediate deportation, they can seek church sanctuary.

In this Issue Brief, former DAAD/AGI Research Fellow Dr. Beverly Crawford Ames outlines the differences in asylum policy in the U.S. and Germany and, despite the differences in the two systems, looks for lessons from the German approach for the United States.

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The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.