They left their homes in Mexico because of violence, and they wanted to provide a safe and healthy upbringing for their children. They know they’ll get paid more in America though they’ll likely need to work two or three jobs to provide for their families.
Often, these migrants become victims of unscrupulous bosses looking for inexpensive labor, and many don’t have the resources to learn English to fight their own cause. They rely on faith communities willing to offer support.
They live in fear every day as they see their friends deported or sent to detention centers. And changing immigration laws and conflicting information don’t make it easy for them to follow and obey policy.
All they want is a good life for their children.
These are the stories I heard on a Feb. 1-5 immersion trip to the border between El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
I went with Jen DeLeon, director for justice for Women of the ELCA, Lisa Plorin, president of WELCA’s executive board, Mary Campbell, program director for AMMPARO, and four women who expressed interest through our Facebook page. AMMPARO (Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) is a strategy of the ELCA.
We saw first-hand the work of two ELCA churches that support migrants or asylum seekers on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border: Cristo Rey Lutheran Church, El Paso, and Border Servant Corps, a ministry of Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces.
Through heart-wrenching stories, we learned about the complex issue of always-changing immigration laws.
Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey, El Paso
Located in central El Paso, the Cristo Rey community is a beacon for those who seek support as they navigate the immigration process. The church offers several programs that support people on both sides of the border: in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The Rev. Rose Mary Guzman-Sanchez, pastor of Cristo Rey, feeds and clothes homeless migrants that stop by the church every day. While we were there, she arranged for legal help for a migrant mother from Africa with blind twin babies.
Cristo Rey helps fund the Cristo Rey medical clinic in Anapra, a working-class neighborhood near Juarez, Mexico. Dr. San Juana Mendoza-Bruce provides medical and dental care for refugees seeking asylum for 30 pesos or about $1.50.
The clinic is the only place that will help these asylum seekers. Even if they can find a factory job (earning about $50 to $60 a week), their medical care is often inadequate.
Our sister seeks asylum in a shifting political landscape
We also heard stories from people seeking asylum who fled their home country for safety in the United States.
We met one mother, age 21, who escaped El Salvador after she was raped by a family member. Eight-months pregnant, she fled with her young children and a partner, but her partner ended up abandoning them, and she was raped again during her escape.
Now, she’s living in a shelter in the U.S. and waiting for a sponsor. She needs someone to stand up for her until she can plead her case for asylum before an immigration judge.
In January 2019, the current administration enacted Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Known by some as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, non-Mexican asylum seekers are deported to Mexico with no due process. Many “face kidnapping, sexual assault, exploitation, lack of basic necessities, abuse and other dangers in Mexico, with no meaningful access to due process in the United States,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Border Servant Corps, Peace Lutheran Church, Las Cruces
We visited a shelter for asylum seekers at a Las Cruces armory. Before Remain in Mexico, the site housed more than 600 people a night. U.S. Border Control agents dropped off asylum seekers by the hundreds. When the city notified Border Control that shelters in the city were at capacity, agents dropped off asylum seekers at a bus stop in town.
Border Servant Corps works to support these migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
Our group also saw what happens in Federal U.S. District Court when people enter between the U.S. ports of entry. If caught entering more than once, the courts charge them with a felony. In the past, it was a misdemeanor.
With a felony conviction, they have no chance to gain legal entry despite the danger they might be in their home country.
Through these stories from migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and those who care for them, we got a glimpse of the complex immigration issue.
As Christians—we must see Jesus in every person who crosses our border. Children are being separated from their families, and they’re sitting in a private prison with little concept of what is happening to them. Women are raped and abused while trying to flee to safety.
We must see Jesus in them. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mathew 25:40)
Six ways you can help:
- Become a Welcoming Congregation and connect your congregation with the AMMPARO network in the ELCA. Currently, 170 congregations accompany migrants spiritually, physically, and financially.
- Join the ELCA advocacy network: https://www.elca.org/advocacy
- Pray. Pray for all who are strangers in a foreign land. Pray for safety for the child separated from their parents. Pray that one day they’ll see their families again.
- Vote for a candidate who does not support the criminalization of migrants and militarization of our southern border.
- Don’t share a social media meme about immigration until you understand the issue. Contact the ACLU in your area to learn what issues need visibility and advocacy.
- Go on a border immersion trip to understand the issue. Learn how you and your congregation can make a difference in the lives of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
Elizabeth McBride is the director for intergenerational programs and editor of Cafe, Women of the ELCA’s online magazine for and with young adult women and their friends. (See more photos from the border immersion trip.)
Anyone legally seeking asylum must enter at a U.S. port of entry. Asylum officers then conduct a credible-fear interview to determine if returning them to their country of origin would be dangerous. Almost 90 percent pass the U.S. credible fear test.
Feature photo: l-r, WELCA executive board president Lisa Plorin, New Hope Lutheran, Upham, N.D.; Mary Meierotto, Bethesda, Bayfield, Wis.; Laurie Tanner, Denver, Colo.; WELCA director for justice Jen DeLeon, Iglesia Luterana De La Trinidad, Chicago, Ill.; Diane Kaufman, Immanuel, Eau Claire, Wis.; Dinah Halopka, Christ the King, University City, Texas; Mary Campbell, ELCA program director, AMMPARO; and Lois Griffiths, Good Shepherd, Harrisburg, Pa. (All photos by Elizabeth McBride)