In the 1980s and ’90s, Alexia Salvatierra was a young adult involved in the early Sanctuary Movement, which rallied churches to protect Central American immigrants fleeing civil war in their home countries. Roughly 20 years later, Salvatierra cofounded the New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith effort that now includes 800 congregations in 30 cities committed to protecting and standing with undocumented immigrants. “People who never thought much about the immigrant community before now really care,” says Salvatierra, a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “It’s a beautiful, Christlike outpouring of love, and I am so moved by it.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Salvatierra grew up hearing immigrant stories from her grandparents, who came to the US from Mexico and Russia. “I always had empathy for what courage it takes to be an immigrant, and I naturally gravitated towards other immigrants as I got older,” she says. “I felt injustice happening everywhere as if it was happening to me—it was my fire in the belly.” She became a Christian as a teenager during the Jesus Movement of the ’70s and discovered hope as she read in the Bible of God’s passion for justice.

Salvatierra now serves as an advisor to the New Sanctuary Movement and also works with Matthew 25, a bipartisan Christian movement (which she co-founded) that seeks to protect and defend the vulnerable in the name of Jesus. From her home in California, Salvatierra spoke with CT about the need for immigration reform, how deportations impact kids, and how churches across the country are getting involved.

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