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The work of caring for immigrants is spreading north of the border, PC(USA)-sponsored webinar reports

Broadcast brings attendees the strong voices of asylees and the people who care for them

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Barbara Zandoval via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — A more humane immigration system will aid not only communities along the U.S.-Mexico border ministering to asylum seekers, but also organizations in the interior portions of the country increasingly called upon to help endangered and harassed people who are fleeing for their life.

A “Faith Call to Solidarity Along the Asylum Journey” webinar was put on Wednesday by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and co-sponsored by Welcome with Dignity and other groups, including the Refugee Ministry of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which, among other services, provided translation during the webinar. Asylees spoke, as did representatives from groups working to aid and advocate for their asylum process.

Speakers included Jennifer Piper, interfaith organizing director with the American Friends Service Committee’s Denver-based Colorado Immigrant Rights Program.


Jennifer Piper

“We started accompanying and feeling the border was closer to us in 2019,” when the Denver program was contacted by Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, Piper said. “This year, new folks are arriving all over Colorado, including mountain and rural communities.”

Because of U.S. Title 42, which to date has been used to expel more than two million people seeking asylum in the United States, Venezuelans — whom Piper said “are blocked from accessing asylum rights more so than other folks right now” — are prevented from accessing an asylum hearing “anywhere along our border.” As a result, they come to places like Albuquerque and Denver “and can proactively apply for asylum there.”

This week, Piper’s organization accepted 50 more asylees. “We are figuring out a network,” Piper said, which includes short-term needs like locating shelters, mid-term needs including finding places to stay while asylees are working but can’t afford housing and locating partner organizations.

“This is the new normal for those of us in the interior,” Piper said. Because of enormous challenges including climate change, economic inequality, violence and immigration policy, “we will continue to see lots of folks on the move. People are fleeing for safety and health and to thrive. Policy change doesn’t drive migration. It’s the root causes, which are intensifying.” Piper called it “our joy and duty to do this for others.”

A Venezuelan asylum seeker who chose the pseudonym “Darwin” said he had to “give up my dreams as a father and provider” to flee to the U.S., where he was promptly sent to Mexico because of Title 42. “It’s a shame for Venezuelans,” Darwin said, “that human rights are not respected.”

Eventually he did make his way back to the United States, “and I feel now that I love the U.S. like I loved Venezuela.” His family has rejoined him. Darwin said it’s important that organizations including those on Wednesday’s call “can continue to do their work to give asylum seekers a more organized way so people can explain their case to an immigration judge.”

A woman seeking asylum told a harrowing story of leaving Venezuela and traveling north by foot, boat and other means. She said her family spent $21,000 just to make the passage north, but their case has not been adjudicated.

Patrick Giuliani, communications specialist with Hope Border Institute in the El Paso area, said the agency’s help for asylees began with buying pizzas and finding hotel rooms for vulnerable people. Later they teamed with medical professionals to offer health care on weekends. Providers would volunteer their services on their days off.

Hope Border Institute has worked with a parish in Ciudad Juárez to help double its meal capacity. Recently the institute released “Abandoned at the Border: The Impacts of the Expansion of Title 42 to Venezuelan Nationals.”

Patrick Giuliani

The report includes interviews with more than 40 Venezuelans, Giuliani said, who told researchers “stories about their journeys. Their time in detention are things we can’t imagine. This is a humanitarian crisis being continued by the U.S.” Asylees told the authors they preferred to stay in the cold rather than return to a government shelter.

“We can all do our part to help,” Giuliani said, noting that Welcome with Dignity has this toolkit people can use to urge the Biden administration to safeguard access to asylum. Church World Service, a PC(USA) partner, has this email template for urging members of Congress to reject anti-asylum policies and any efforts to extend or codify Title 42 through legislation.

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