Christians Are Helping at the Border, but They Can’t Do It Alone

Image: David McNew / Getty Images

When The New York Times reported on toddlers without diapers and children without toothbrushes at US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, Christians joined the rest of the country in dismay.

They shared the stories chronicling poor conditions and promoted campaigns to donate money and send supplies, desperate to do something to help. But the facilities at the center of the reports have turned away donations.

This saga has brought new attention to the crises at the border, particularly for children of asylum seekers, and the role of US churches in offering a compassionate response. Where are evangelicals already at work among the latest wave of migrants? What more can be done?

Leaders like San Antonio pastor Max Lucado have urged Christians to pray and act. “This is a mess. A humanitarian, heartbreaking mess. As we are wondering what can be done, let’s do what we are called to do,” he wrote in a lament for CT. “Let’s pray. Let’s lament. Let’s groan.” (You can read a collection of six Christian leaders’ prayers for the border here.)

Grief over the conditions at the border has compelled many evangelical Christians to act, but they prefer to work directly with evangelical mercy ministries.

However, in these moments when the law stands between Christians and acts of mercy—like not being able to drop off donations at a detention center—they can be uncomfortable with idea of supporting government aid or state humanitarian efforts, said Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission.

“Even for Christians who tend to be leery of government intervention,” Freeman said, to get the diapers and wipes to the children in custody, “the reality is that Congress has to take that up and do it.”

Congress did vote to send money to the border, but the bill does not guarantee money will be dedicated to humanitarian aid. Phone calls are still appropriate, immigration advocates say, to urge the authorities to use the money to improve care for children and families in detention.

Still, some conservative Christians—for both political and spiritual reasons—do not wish to see more funding go to humanitarian aid, which they see as a departure from the role of government.

Those who do want to see humanitarian aid, feel that this is the time for evangelicals to use their political influence.

“As evangelicals, we have been given tremendous freedoms, privilege, and access to power,” World Relief President Scott Arbeiter challenged, “Are we using them on behalf of the poor, marginalized and vulnerable, or are we protecting the status quo?”

Following a visit to the border, National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson and other leaders drafted a letter to Congress calling for more a more humane reception on the border. Individuals can sign the letter on the Evangelical Immigration Table website.

Christians in search of exclusively evangelical avenues to help children in detention are likely to come up empty-handed. While some have called on major humanitarian forces in the evangelical world to turn their efforts to the border (like Samaritan’s Purse), the groups having the most impact now are the ones that have been there for years.

Much of the legal and advocacy work is being done by RAICES and the American Civil Liberties Union. Despite their effective work at the border, pro-life Christians often avoid donating to them because of the organizations’ support for abortion rights, Freeman said.

Smaller, issue-specific legal resources like Immigrant Families TogetherKids in Need of Defense, and the United Methodist Church’s Justice for Our Neighbors are alternatives that do not support abortion. Immigrant Families Together partners with the International Rescue Committee, which provides contraceptives and post-abortion care to women who have obtained unsafe abortions in countries around the world.

World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the NAE, offers legal services to credible asylum seekers around the country, once they have been processed at the ports of entry. Getting access to those still in detention or CBP custody is more difficult, said Arbeiter. Once asylum seekers are out of custody, the church has more opportunities to step in and help, Freeman said.

Once asylum seekers have been released into the communities, Christians have more opportunities for direct mercy ministries. However, Freeman said, if they want to stick to evangelical organizations, “it’s going to take a little more work.”

She recommends that Christians who want to support church-specific work contact their denomination to find local congregations with immigrant outreach along the border and channel donations to those churches, many of which partner with other trusted nonprofits.

In Texas, the organizations with the greatest capacity to mobilize and navigate the bureaucratic hurdles of receiving asylum seekers are Catholic, namely Catholic Charities. Annunciation House in El Paso and Sister Norma Pimentel’s Respite Center (which was closed and will be relocated) in McAllen have been the two most well-known respite houses for asylum seekers released on the border.

Also in El Paso, a faith-based community center, Ciudad Nueva, is expanding to minister directly to immigrants, in addition to at-risk youth. The nonprofit supports temporary shelters through a ministry called El Paso Encounters and has created an Amazon wishlistfor their most needed items.

In Brownsville, as in many border cities, an interfaith group welcomes migrants at bus stations and on the international bridges. Team Brownsville, made of Christians, atheists, and people of other faiths, passes out food, water, toothbrushes, mats to sleep on, and tarps for shade as people camp on the bridge waiting for their turn to present to US Customs and Border Protection.

In San Antonio, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition organizes to help asylum seekers released from detention make their transit connections at the bus station and airport.

All of the organizations welcome donations and volunteers.

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Source: Christianity Today