My trip to El Paso
“Words have power.” Toni Morrison
Recently I traveled to El Paso, with the hopes of finding some language to pray for and communicate the situation at our southern border and to volunteer my abilities for service. Volunteering for a few days was harder than I thought. Whereas four months ago, Border Patrol was receiving 1,100 asylum seekers a day, with the new policy requiring applicants to wait in Mexico for their appointment before a judge/officer, only 50-100 people are being received each day. Earlier this year, the churches of El Paso united together in a network of care for all of these vulnerable individuals and families arriving in our country. Some churches provided food pantries, others provided shelter and showers, and clothing was donated from several sources. Extra volunteers were recruited to help with the organization of so many people and transportation to the bus stop, train station and airport. Asylum Seekers do not receive any assistance from the government, not even a translator or legal representation in their interviews(both are required). Frequently family members send money for them to travel and stay with them until the interview.
Under the regular process for asylum application, you must be present in the US and therefore the only way to apply for asylum is to arrive at the border and apply. With the overwhelming numbers of people coming in this season, the new policy was accepted. The news outlets covered the challenges we were facing as a country to shelter these people while they wait for their interview, but there doesn’t seem to be American reporting of the struggle these people are facing while waiting in Mexico. The churches do not have the same resources and in the words of one of the pastors I met, the Mexican pastors and church leaders are “exhausted physically, emotionally and literally” meaning they are using everything they have to provide for the neighbors showing up at their door. Learning all of this left me asking, “What is asylum anyway? Aren’t these people doing everything in the proper order? Why are we treating them like criminals?” Again, this turned out to be much more complicated than I thought. Asylum status was created for people who were being persecuted by their government in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The pilgrims traveling north from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are mostly seeking shelter from persecution by the drug cartels. Parents share stories about being approached by a cartel member who asks for their son’s membership and threaten his life or their other children if the parents refuse. So, their “credible threat” on their life or children’s lives is not coming from their government, and not easily proven, but they are also not being protected by their government. And now that they are waiting in Mexico, the cartels are coming after them there.
So, the organizations on both sides of the border are not interested in short term relationships, they are looking for partnerships and long-term volunteers who are willing to undergo training and walk alongside them as this situation continues to develop and change. Our border crisis is not unique. Other world leading countries are also overwhelmed by asylum applicants, and we cannot expect these challenges to change anytime soon.
I will be taking reservations for a different kind of mission trip this March to Juarez/El Paso. We would not be building walls to a building, but we would be building relationships with our hearts/hands of service. I will be sharing more information on Sunday, November 10th, during worship and information sheets will be available then.