Webinar participants offer ideas for aiding asylum seekers, deportees
February 18, 2019
Presbyterians living hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border can help asylum seekers and those facing deportation from the United States in a number of ways, including advocacy and accompaniment.
Experts had no shortage of helpful ideas during a recent 75-minute webinar organized by the Outreach to the World Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Board. But participants also acknowledged concerns.
“The biggest challenge I’ve seen in South Texas is the fear,” said Caly Fernández, a ruling elder who chairs Mission Presbytery’s Immigration Task Force. “We have churches with the space for transitional housing, but churches are afraid to open up their doors.” People released from detention may have a bus ticket home but must wait two or three days while they’re waiting for family members, she said.
“McAllen is exhausted,” she said, referring to a community in South Texas. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.”
One option for volunteers is the Courts & Ports: Faithful Witness on the Texas-Mexico Border two-day immersion program of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy/Texas Impact, which is supported by a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance grant. Legal proceedings “are different,” Fernández said, “when there is a large presence of faith-based volunteers to witness what’s going on.”
Susan Krehbiel, PDA’s associate for refugees and asylum, said PDA’s blog highlights groups working with asylum seekers. She also encourages those concerned about the refugee crisis to reach out to elected officials. Advocacy is an option that costs nothing, she noted. “We need people to advocate for our government to restore more humanitarian responses,” she said.
Even people who have secured legal counsel have only a 50-50 chance of obtaining asylum, said Amanda Craft, manager of advocacy with the PC(USA)’s Office of Immigration Issues. She suggested Presbyterians pursue advocacy work at local levels — city councils, county commissions and statehouses.
“Those are really important people,” she said. “You can do advocacy locally.”
Leslie Vogel, a Guatemala-based mission co-worker and the World Mission regional liaison for Mexico and Central America, said films, including “The Genesis of Exodus,” can show viewers that most of the rhetoric alleging a threat posed by immigrants is unfounded.
“A lot of people feel threatened, whether it’s their space or their livelihood,” she said. “But migrants don’t generally take jobs. They do jobs even the poorest U.S. citizens aren’t willing to do. … They are family members, not thugs and gang members, for the most part, and not terrorists. They are suffering the impacts of U.S. foreign policy back to the 1970s, making it more untenable to live in their countries.”
“Everyone who can be deported is now being deported, and we’ve never seen anything like that in our history,” Craft said.
Teresa Waggener, an attorney with the Office of Immigration Issues, said international law is supposed to prevent asylum seekers from being punished for asking for asylum even if they don’t have proper documentation. Asylum seekers now must be present in the U.S. to ask for asylum. Ports of entry have slowed the flow, however, leaving asylum seekers waiting in Mexico and facing a difficult choice: “Will they wait homeless, or pass irregularly?” she said. “It’s getting harder to access due process.”
The Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, chair of the PMA’s Outreach to the World Committee, said the webinar represented the chance to meet deployed staff and to learn more about the work around immigration and asylum-seeking.
“We wanted to highlight some of the ministry we are engaged in,” she said. Mission Presbytery and others “have been on the front line of refugee work for many years. It’s an honor to share these vital, life-saving and prophetic ministries.”
Mike Ferguson, Presbyterian News Service, Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Aiding asylum seekers, deportees
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, thank you for testimonies of your life-changing power at work in the world. Continue to empower your church to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, following his call to alleviate suffering in the world. Amen.