The past few months have seen intense focus on the United States/Mexico border as the latest so-called migrant caravan approached, with some predicting mass riots and chaos that seemed in direct contrast to the thousands of people peacefully awaiting their chance to present for asylum. This past weekend, however, the growing desperation and frustration of newly arrived immigrants, who discovered they would wait an average of two months to cross into the U.S. legally at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, boiled over during a peace march which was organized to draw attention to Caravan members’ desire to be allowed to pursue asylum in the U.S. After hundreds of mostly Honduran marchers forced their way past the Mexican federal police in Tijuana, the borders were closed on both sides, eventually followed by the “flash-bang” grenade and tear gas fired into the crowd by U.S. agents (CBP states that four officers were struck with rocks in the course of the day). Fairly quickly the internet and media were abuzz with still photographs and videos of mothers and children running from the site, tears running down their swollen faces, crying out for help.
Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs-Zehnder wrote a wonderful account of her recent trip to the Chapparal/San Ysidro crossing. She joined Co-Chairs Pastors Ada and Melvin Valiente and Professor Robert and Erica Chao Romero on the Matthew 25 sponsored delegation to find out how best Presbyterians can assist members of the migrant caravan. Their goal was “to add dimension to the stories circulating in the international and local media—particularly highlighting the vulnerability and gratitude of the caravaners for the hospitality they are receiving and the need for communities on both sides of the border to receive and support them.”
Rev. Gibbs-Zehnder says that while they saw some minor upset between the waiting migrants, it was easily deescalated by other members of the group. People are open to the spiritual and emotional support they are offered, and repeatedly mention their appreciation for being in a place of relative safety. After all of the difficulties they faced during their march northward, they are aware they need to gather their strength for what lies ahead.
“The news has focused on the negative reaction that a small group of persons have had in Tijuana. While it is disturbing, I hope we do not lose sight of the arduous work of all our sisters and brothers there and throughout Mexico who have not sought the limelight and have participated quietly in providing welcome, food, shelter, and clothing. May we lift up stories of light in the midst of the darkness,” Mark Adams, Coordinator of Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border ministry located in the sister cities of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona, said on Monday.
While focus has been on the Caravan and thousands of asylum seekers in Tijuana, those ministering along the U.S./Mexio border remind us that the Caravan is just one group of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers continue to arrive each day at Nogales, AZ. And, while arrivals have been much lower at the Agua Prieta/Douglas, AZ port of entry than at other sites (intel says this is due to cartels restricting entry into this corridor), Frontera de Cristo has found a way to help. Knowing that Douglas has the capacity to initiate the asylum process for 8 persons a day—but was only receiving 4–6 per week—Frontera worked with their partners in Nogales to transport vulnerable populations 112 miles to Agua Prieta. Without Frontera’s help, pregnant women, the elderly, and those extremely ill would be stalled at Nogales for what is currently a 3–4 week waiting period.
So, while it is easy to believe in the face of devastating media images and reports there is no hope, many are working hard to find every avenue (including loopholes) to make a difference at the border. We know many of you are called to help and—as we said in the previous blog post—in these situations answering that call is best done with the help of a larger, coordinating organization rather than simply showing up and getting in the way of those on the ground in the process of “doing the work.”
These stories reflect the importance of our connectional church. Through our relationship with Pacifice Presbytery, PDA was able to provide financial support for the organizing work of Matthew 25 SoCal earlier this year and has provided two additional grants of $7,500 to provide humanitarian assistance at the U.S./Mexico border. PDA
works with established partners so volunteers are well received and put to useful work at the border. You can help support Presbyterians working in the region through opportunities listed on the website as well as by donating to US Refugee Emergencies.
To support these and other Presbyterian-connected ministries, donate to US Refugee Emergencies. PDA has already released several grants through the Presbyteries in the region and will continue to do so as funding is available.
If you are called to give of your time, McAllen and El Paso, Texas need out-of-town volunteers. PDA can assist you if you have a group of 3 or more volunteers. Information is also available for individual volunteers to make their own arrangements. For more information, please visit this link and scroll down to Refugee Ministry.
Advocate for just and compassionate U.S. policies toward refugees and other forced migrants. Call House and Senate Judiciary Committee Members Today! Please call the Senators and Representatives from your state.
You can also speak up on social media. Church World Service has provided free downloadable images for use on Facebook and Twitter for increased awareness and impact.
Participate in Upcoming Events
In addition to volunteering in the future through PDA, you can participate more immediately by participating in the following events:
- Wall of Faith—Interfaith Caravan of Hope, December 14–16
Participate in a multi-day Interfaith event in McAllen, TX. Worship with and serve asylum seekers as they transition to the United States. Contact for the Wall of Welcome is Caly Fernández.
- Posada at the Border, December 15
Carpool with Pacific Presbytery and M25 to the border to participate in a cross-border posada—a ritual re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodgings in Bethlehem. Please contact Heidi Worthen Gamble if you would like to join our carpool. Important note for all who feel called to go with us—you are signing up for an adventure and must come with a flexible mindset. There will be a lot of press as we want to be the public face of the church in this moment.