A federal jury in Texas has found sanctuary workers Jack Elder and Stacey Lynn Merkt guilty of illegally assisting undocumented Central American aliens.

Elder, who directs a Roman Catholic Church-sponsored shelter near the Mexican border, was convicted on five counts, including two counts of helping Salvadorians enter the United States illegally. He faces a maximum prison term of 30 years and a fine of up to $28,000. In January, another court acquitted Elder on charges of assisting illegal aliens who had already crossed the border (CT, March 1, 1985, p. 30).

Merkt, an associate of Elder’s at the Casa Oscar Romero halfway house in San Benito, Texas, was convicted on one count of conspiracy. She faces a maximum prison sentence of five years. Attorneys for Merkt and Elder said they would appeal the verdicts.

Those committed to providing sanctuary for Central Americans maintain that, by deporting the aliens, the United States government is violating the Refugee Act of 1980. The sanctuary movement and the U.S. government are at odds over whether Central Americans fleeing civil strife should be regarded as refugees.

In Congress, the number of cosponsors for a bill proposed by Rep. Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) has grown to 112. The measure proposes that deportation of Salvadorians be delayed pending further assessment of conditions in El Salvador. Some 400 Salvadorians are deported each month.


The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a case whose outcome will determine the legality of student-led religious meetings in public high schools. The case centers on the right of students to hold a Bible club meeting in a Williamsport, Pennsylvania, high school. A federal district judge last year ...

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