As the director of disaster relief for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a former resident of the border region himself, Scottie Stice and his colleagues have spent years giving aid to migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But these days, said the Texan, “We have had an increase in numbers.”
Waves of Baptist volunteers from across the Mid- and Southwest have flooded his state in recent weeks to offer aid to the influx of largely Central American migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The deluge of Southern Baptists and other evangelical relief groups has surprised some. Though a vast faith-based network of organizations focuses its work on the border, the Catholic Church has historically dominated the aid operation in Texas. Many mainline Protestant groups also expanded their involvement in the region around the time when the first major surge of Central American migrants reached the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014.
But evangelicals have garnered less attention — perhaps because they are more likely than any other faith group to believe that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to welcome refugees, according to the Pew Research Center.
But Trump administration policies are changing the longstanding humanitarian efforts on the border, most recently by requiring many of those applying for asylum to wait out their asylum claims in Mexicoinstead of the United States.
Susan Krehbiel, who runs a program for refugees and asylum seekers under the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program, pointed to recent news that Annunciation House, a faith-rooted group in El Paso that is also aided by Texas Baptists and the Salvation Army, was receiving fewer migrants in its “overflow shelter” and planned to put parts of its work “on hiatus.”
Krehbiel said the drop in migrant numbers in the region was partly due to factors like summer heat but also to the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy.
Alvin Migues, emergency disaster services director for the Texas division of Salvation Army, agreed that the policy is one of several factors that make migration numbers difficult to predict.
“I think it plays into it drastically,” he said.
Working on the Mexico side of the border can be difficult for mainline denominations such as the PCUSA, which often operate internationally through non-profit groups. The National Presbyterian Church of Mexico broke ties with the PCUSA in 2011 after the U.S. denomination voted to allow for the ordination of LGBTQ people.
The Catholic Church retains robust partnerships on both sides of the border. So do the Baptists: Mike Carlisle, director of missions for the San Diego Southern Baptist Association, said his group has a missionary who teams up with local churches from the National Baptist Convention of Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico, to offer food and showers for migrants currently trapped in bureaucratic limbo.
“For weeks our missionary single-handedly provided breakfast for those awaiting immigration processing,” Carlisle said. “He was asked by some of the officials there to expand his work.”
Migues said the Salvation Army, an international organization, recently convened a meeting in Mexico City that included discussion of enhancing its coordination with divisions on the Mexico side of the border.
But some observers, including Stice, said that evangelical groups have also become increasingly involved simply because of the political and religious debate over immigration.
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Source: Religion News Service