by Terry Maples, CBFVA Coordinator
What I saw and felt the first week of December 2019 was heartbreaking, maddening, and inspiring all at the same time. CBF state and regional coordinators gathered for an immigration immersion experience on the Texas/Mexico border. I watch the nightly news, so I was aware (to some degree) of recent action to block entry of people into the U.S. from Mexico. Head knowledge is one thing, but nothing compares to up-close interaction with hurting humanity. I will never forget the faces of desperate people and their harrowing stories. Please listen to this episode of NPR’s “This American Life.” You will encounter people in two of the places we visited, and your understanding of what happens at the border will be forever changed.
Our journey began with a class designed to help us understand the “push and pull factors” contributing to migration from Central America. We heard a powerful presentation from Dr. Elaine Hernandez, South Texas Regional Director for the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. The massive numbers of families seeking access to the U.S. are mind-blowing. The chart below shows how many people from four countries were apprehended in southwestern U.S. in the past four years:
We notice the number of folks seeking to enter the U.S. from countries south of our border has increased dramatically in recent years—figures rose from 73,888 in 2016 to 436,550 in 2019. Why the increase? The primary reason people feel forced to leave their countries is because they live in extreme poverty. Many don’t have adequate food to eat. Climate change is a key factor in food insecurity. Climate shifts are ruining crops and decimating incomes. Another reason many flee their countries is violence and fear of being killed. To compare: The homicide rate in New York City in 2018 was 3.4 per 100,000; in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the number skyrockets to 113 per 100,000. We heard several stories from folks who described how they fled their home countries because they knew they would be killed if they stayed.
Contributing to the crisis at the border is changing American immigration policy. Current U.S. leadership mandates asylum seekers stay on the Mexican side, creating what is called a “hard” border. If the sole reason for this policy is to stop immigration into the U.S., the policy has been incredibly effective. But, as Christ-followers, we don’t have the luxury of myopic thinking that fails to consider the implications for human beings created in the image of God. Remember, we are compelled by Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-19. We can’t allow fear or ideology to drive how we treat those whom God loves. We must build capacity to look beyond fear-based decisions and see the consequences, i.e. the danger, damage, and death for children of God already facing incredible hardship. For example, here are some of the inhumane by-products of U.S. Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or “wait in Mexico”:
- Central Americans seeking entry into the U.S. must wait, sometimes many months, for a hearing with a judge. When they are sent back into Mexico from the U.S. side, refugees are targeted. Their shoelaces and women’s brassieres are confiscated because they are considered “weapons,” plus, candidates carry an easily identifiable folder with paperwork inside. Kidnappers, many dressed in police uniforms, lie to refugees returned to Mexico. When these unsuspecting victims are permitted to call family members in the U.S., kidnappers extort these family members saying, for example, “Pay $15,000 or your family members at the border will die.”
- Desperate families who have risked everything to reach the border often feel forced to cross the Rio Grande illegally. We heard the heart-breaking story from an El Salvadoran family who believed they had no other choice since they were forbidden to legally cross into the U.S. When no other choices are available, desperate people cross the life-threatening river….
- We spent time with courageous pastors who act upon God’s call to help people trapped at the border. One day we accompanied members from Iglesia Bautista Capernaum to Matamoros in order to feed folks living in a tent city and sleeping on concrete slabs. The inhumane conditions are indescribable. This body of believers goes twice a week to feed human beings. Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz from Iglesia Bautista El Bueno Samaritano in Laredo consistently and sacrificially serves by transporting people to safe shelters. Ortiz’s church rents two houses—one accommodating 90 people, the other 60. Families awaiting a ruling are padlocked inside the buildings because of how unsafe the neighborhood is. Though conditions are very poor, the people are grateful to be safe and fed.
Can you imagine the fear, danger, frustration, hopelessness, boredom, and loss experienced by these desperate people? Can you imagine the overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and spread of disease? Can you imagine your child having no space to run and play?
The tendency of visitors to the border, including our group of state and regional coordinators, is to return to our safe and comfortable communities in the United States and lament, “The situation is so complex with no easy answers. What can I do?” I ask God to bless churches and organizations partnering with Fellowship Southwest to provide care, comfort, and hope, but am deeply aware the dire circumstances at the U.S.-Mexico border demand something more from all of us! We must act. Our action must be compelled by empathy and compassion. Here are some of the tangible ways YOU can help:
- Advocate for a reversal of “hard border” policies—common sense and Christian ethics mean we secure the border while treating all with dignity, never separating children from their parents, and providing a path to citizenship for those fleeing violence and food insecurity.
- Give money so Fellowship Southwest can provide greater financial support for ministries at the border. Partners will use the funds to buy food, pay rent and utilities, supply gas for vans, purchase winter clothing and blankets, obtain diapers and other supplies, and buy medicine. Make checks payable to “Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” designated “Fellowship SW Immigrant Relief Fund,” and mail to: Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; 160 Clairemont Ave., Suite 500; Decatur, GA 30030. Or provide online support by clicking here.
- Support Fellowship Southwest as it coordinates with Stephen Reeves, who guides CBF’s advocacy efforts. Pray for opportunities to advocate on behalf of immigrants. Advocacy is the primary vehicle for achieving long-term improvement.
Beautiful human beings—children of God with hopes, dreams, and aspirations like yours—are trapped at the border. The images will haunt me forever. I pledge my financial support to make a difference in the lives of people caught in failed U.S. policy decisions, and call upon you to do the same!