“Remember, it isn’t okay to tell lies to anyone unless you are saving another person’s life.”

In 1982, savvy society housewife Carla Pedersen, Democratic activist and co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement, began using her glamour, her yellow van, and her young sons as smokescreens to smuggle refugees over the U.S. border — refugees fleeing torture and murder in Central America.  Dozens, if not hundreds of undocumented immigrants were sheltered in their suburban Tucson home, in direct violation of the law.

Filtered through the lens of home movies, childhood diaries and Frontline specials, Carla’s oldest son Hans presents excerpts from her memoir “A Coyote’s Tale,” to tell the story of growing up with a revolution in the living room.

“In a sing-song voice he said, ‘I think we’re doing something illeeeegalllllll!'”

Central American refugees fled from death squads in the 1980s,
and members of the Sanctuary Movement in the United States took great legal risk to help them seek safety.

A Coyote’s Tale brings us stories from the saga of an ordinary family who chose not to look away.

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A Coyote’s Tale

“I hung up wondering how to take care of this young Salvadoran man with a bullet somewhere in his body, probably in his brain, and still get the boys to soccer practice on time. Junior League and its mission had not quite prepared me for this kind of voluntarism.”




“I called my brain surgeon, Dr. Grayson, and explained the situation.

“Carla, I can take a bullet out and make arrangements for him to receive proper medical attention, but all bullet wounds have to be reported to the police.’

“They do? Well, could you delay the report to the police by a couple of days…like ten or twelve?’ I asked, hoping the phone wasn’t monitored.”




I stressed to Alexander, who was only eight at the time, and to Christian, who was just nine and a half, the importance of looking upper-middle class at the airport.

“What’s that?” asked Alexander.

“Xander!” said Christian, “It means you don’t chew with your mouth open and you use a Kleenex for your nose, not toilet paper!’

“Shut-up, Christian!’

“Look, boys. Right now, it means appearance and cleanliness, how we are dressed and how we carry ourselves. Remember what I told you Captain Barron, the Sheriff’s friend, said? At the airport use your manners and walk with your shoulders back. Behave. You’ll just have to wear these yellow Sunday school shirts that you hate, the ones with the alligators. And absolutely wear these new white socks. Here’s a wash rag. Scrub those faces and knees again. This is an important mission. Just like Joseph and Mary didn’t want Baby Jesus to be murdered by King Herod’s death squads when they fled to Nazareth, we don’t want Rigoberto to be picked up by the Border Patrol or Customs agents,’ I said.”



Check back for more excerpts from Carla’s memoir of the Sanctuary Movement, of family life, and the complex ways that they intertwined.

“A few days later Tim called and asked if we would have room for a few more refugees”

If you’re interested in ways to help refugees,  email  production@coyotestale.com

We’ll help you to find resources where you can learn more.