A delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) just returned from a visit to the U.S./Mexico border in McAllen, Texas. While many from the group spend most of their work days on immigration issues, they were still surprised and saddened by what they saw and heard.
“We heard so many heart-wrenching stories: from the conditions that led to the decision to leave their homes, to the dangers of the journey and the waiting period to plead their cases. Some with small children beside them,” said Ruling Elder Cintron-Olivieri, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly. “We've seen the pain and longing in the eyes of mothers, fathers, grandmothers, looking for a better life, a safe place where they can work and provide for their families and live in peace.”
During the three-day visit, the delegation took part in the “Wall of Welcome/Interfaith Caravan of Hope” alongside students from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The delegation met with ministry groups working with people seeking asylum from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Teresa Waggener, manager of Immigration Legal Issues with the Office of the General Assembly, says people have a strong reaction to the church’s ministry, feeling they’ve scored a political win or are trampling over deeply held political beliefs.
“Every time we travel and meet the folk who are harmed by our current immigration system, I am reminded at how much more basic our ministry really is,” said Waggener. “Before and above all else, we are God’s children, inextricably intertwined as fellow members of the sacred human family. Gender, race, language, nationality and political affiliation mattered not to the Good Samaritan. That is the challenge at the heart of our ministry; we want the church to see through the eyes of the Good Samaritan.”
Amanda Craft, manager of Immigration Advocacy with the Office of the General Assembly, says they often engage immigration through an academic, legal or political lens.
“However, when your hands grasp the hands of the affected, when your shoes take you to the communities of the at-risk, when your hearts are broken by the unwavering faith of those seeking protection, the sinfulness of U.S. immigration enforcement policies are absolutely shocking,” she said. “The policies affect an entire way of life that occurs along the U.S./Mexico border and are forcing vulnerable people to live in dangerous circumstances. As people of faith, we should be outraged and called to be present in the places of pain and in the places of policy making. We can re-write this story.”
In addition to speaking with ministry groups working with people seeking asylum, the delegation crossed the border in Brownsville, Texas into Mexico and met with families trying to enter legally. Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the church’s Office of Public Witness, says the personal contact provides a perspective that many people don’t hear or see.
“Faith in Jesus Christ calls us to have compassion. We are talking about human beings, grandparents, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, people who are on a journey trying to find a better life,” he said. “Whenever one person is hurt by policies of this country, we have a responsibility for those who are trying to overcome the negative impact of those policies.”
Hawkins says Presbyterians can make a difference by advocating members of Congress as well as writing letters and opinion pieces to local media outlets.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), says he was touched by the stories of the pain and suffering of those trying to cross the border seeking freedom.
“Instead of freedom, they find themselves struggling to find a place to call home. We’ve had an opportunity to see masses of people crossing the border legally, while others are in a holding place, not knowing what life will be for them and their children. Many were lying on cots, playing with toys they either brought or were given. They’re not in school but are trying to build a new life. This is the U.S., land of the free and home of the brave, where all, at one time, were welcome.”
Nelson says it’s time to come together and build hope in places where there is great despair and stand with those who are outcast and broken.
For more information on OGA’s immigration advocacy work, click here.
To learn more about the root causes of migration from Central America click here.
Connect with the Office of Public Witness by clicking here.
Ask your Congressperson for a more just immigration system, click here.
Volunteer with or donate to a ministry of welcome by clicking here.