Michael Smith: The East Bay Sanctuary Covenant
The East Bay Sanctuary was organized in 1982 to assist refugees fleeing the terrible violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America. While refugees from El Salvador and Honduras were fleeing, mainly political persecution, the vast majority of Guatemalan refugees were Maya, fleeing persecution on account of their race. More than 200,000 Maya fled into Mexico at the height of the violence, and many eventually made their way to the United States, crossing the southern border without papers. Currently there are around 5,000 Mam Maya living in the East Bay, and thousands more working in the fields of the Central Valley of California, the forests in Washington, the meat packing plants in Iowa and Nebraska, the blueberry fields in Michigan, and the fields in many states in the Deep South.
Through the years the sanctuary has assisted thousands of indigenous Guatemalans and currently has 5 attorneys and 9 paralegals on staff, as well as numerous volunteer attorneys, law students and undergrads. This summer, sanctuary is predicted to win its 4,000th asylum case.
Michael Smith is the director of the Refugee Rights Program at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, CA. His background is in anthropology and archaeology, and he worked for many years on a project in Nicaragua for the National Museum. In 1984, he began work at East Bay Sanctuary and has been at sanctuary ever since. He has received awards from Helen Bamber and the Dalai Lama for his work in refugees and from Berkeley Law for his work with law students.