Faith groups – many of whom have long advocated for a more welcoming immigration policy – have struggled to keep up with the rapidly evolving Haitian migrant crisis, trying to help those in need while attacking the harsh tactics of border patrol employed against them.
Before thousands of Haitian migrants dispersed last week from a camp in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, a coalition of churches and other groups were providing them with sandwiches, water and more. essential products. Since their dispersal, many migrants have received help from faith groups in Houston and El Paso as they seek to connect with relatives and sponsors across the United States.
Immigration extremists criticize some of the efforts of religious activists, saying their efforts encourage even more migrants to come. But those who provide aid see it as an extension of their religious mandate to help the needy.
âWe are apolitical,â said Carlos Villareal, a Houston-area leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who has mobilized volunteers at a short-term transition center in Houston to help out. hundreds of migrants arriving from Del Rio.
âOur concern is mainly with the families, that we can help them,â Villareal said. âIt’s also the golden rule: do to others what you would have done for yourself. “
The transition center was set up earlier this year at the request of the White House in response to earlier migrant influxes, Villareal said. It offers families a place to shower, have a meal, and contact sponsors who would pay for their plane or bus tickets to join them while their cases go through the immigration process.
Most Haitian migrants are expected to apply to immigration judges for asylum or other legal status – requests that could be denied and lead to possible deportation.
Villareal says he meets migrants with similar stories to his parents, who immigrated from Mexico in search of a better life, so as not to be a burden on society.
âThese people are just here looking for an opportunity,â he said.
Mobilization of faith-based groups began almost as soon as the sudden influx of migrants began in Del Rio, with Haitians converging from various Latin American countries to which they had fled their besieged Caribbean homeland.
Volunteers from a coalition of Christian churches and other groups in this region along the US-Mexico border have prepared more than 10,000 sandwiches for Haitian migrants camping under the bridge that connects Del Rio to Ciudad AcuÃ±a in Mexico said Shon Young, president of the Val Verde border. Humanitarian coalition.
Their work started with around 20 churches and has spread to more than 100 churches and other organizations, said Young, who is an associate pastor at City Church Del Rio.
Her church also raised donations and the coalition set up an Amazon wishlist that included juices, hand sanitizer and snacks. The response – from American and Haitian organizations and distant individual donors – has been overwhelming, Young said.
The camp numbered over 14,000 people at its peak. Many Haitian migrants are deported and flown back to Haiti, but many others who gathered in Del Rio have been released in the United States, according to two US officials.
The Department of Homeland Security transported Haitians from Del Rio to El Paso, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas border, and added flights to Tucson, Ariz., Said one of the responsible. They are handled by the border patrol at these locations.
The El Paso Baptist Association offers migrants COVID-19 testing and provides them with food, clothing and a place to sleep while they contact family members or other sponsors. Since the end of July, the association has helped more than 300 migrants, mostly Haitians, and expected many more to arrive from Del Rio, said Larry Floyd, the group’s executive director.
Catholic-led nonprofits and other faith-based organizations have long been at the forefront of efforts to support migrants and asylum seekers along the Mexican border, providing essential services to two sides of the Rio Grande.
Pope Francis praised the work of Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Other well-known groups include the Jewish Family Service in San Diego, which provides housing and other assistance to migrants, and Annunciation House in El Paso, which provides shelter to migrants while they plan their trip to other American cities.
Annunciation House, which says its mission is based on Catholic education in social justice, has prepared to receive several hundred migrants from Del Rio, executive director Ruben Garcia said.
âFirst they are tested,â Garcia said. âOnce they’re tested for COVID, we start welcoming them. “
At times, faith groups have embarked on a polarizing national debate over immigration policies. Although many praise their work to help migrants, some critics say it encourages more people to come to the United States
“A lot of these religious groups are confusing two issues … It’s different to advocate for government policy that would import more people like that,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. The center favors more restrictive immigration policies.
Many religious leaders joined an appeal last week organized by the national nonprofit Faith in Action network urging the administration of President Joe Biden to stop deporting migrants to Haiti without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum. in the United States and to protest their treatment after the broadcast of images of the border patrol. agents on horseback using aggressive tactics.
“This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated today,” said Reverend Alvin Herring, executive director of Faith in Action.
The Catholic Social Justice Network lobby called for increased surveillance of US customs and border protection. The network’s director of government relations, Ronnate Asirwatham, said CBP had “a history of systemic abuse and racism.”
The group joined more than 160 Catholic organizations in a letter asking Biden to end the authority of Title 42, named after a section of a 1944 public health law that the then president, Donald Trump, used in March 2020 to effectively end asylum at the Mexican border.
Herring, who traveled to Del Rio with other religious leaders to assess the situation firsthand, said pushing for the Biden administration to honor its commitments to the migrants was essential.
“We see our Haitian brothers and sisters the finger for this despicable abuse, which we believe to be racist and immoral,” he said.