As Title 42 expired last week, we asked Tres Rios Presbytery Border Ministry Foundation and its local partner Abara what life is like these days for people living on the border — both the migrants who have traveled such distances to seek protection in the United States and long-term residents who have accompanied migrants for years.
What is the environment where are you on the border as Title 42 ends?
The group consensus was that that the day after Title 42 had expired, things seemed very calm. Several interviewed pointed out that the U.S.-Mexico border hosts only a small portion of the world’s forcibly displaced population.
“It was much quieter than on most days,” the Rev. Matt Miles of TRP Border Foundation said. “From the news we expected chaos.”
The Rev. Sue Dickson, another foundation board director, said the group had been surprised by the decreased number of migrants in the streets. “Volunteers at Abara [a partner migrant support group that connects with a network of more than 30 shelters] told us the border patrol and other U.S. agencies had been intent on processing people before the end of Title 42.” In the days before it expired, some migrant support groups and NGOs encouraged migrants to present themselves at the border. Policies like Title 8, which may replace Title 42, could have more devastating consequences for asylum seekers.
What are partners in Mexico seeing?
“We go across regularly to host border encounters,” the Rev. Dr. John Nelsen said, a feature of the foundation’s work connecting Presbyterians to the day-to-day reality of migrant existence. “Pasos De Fe has been our partner for many years. Only in recent years [with the large increase in migrants gathering in Ciudad Juárez] did it become a shelter.”
Nelsen, a longtime border ministry advocate who retired last year as pastor of University Presbyterian Church in El Paso, called the foundation “a Presbyterian piece” of the system supporting migrants on both sides of the border.
[Learn more about TRP Border Foundation’s programming in this article for the Presbyterian Foundation.]
Rosa Mani, a social worker who provides migrant services for Abara in Juárez, discussed the post-Title 42 situation in Juárez and El Paso, speaking over the phone from inside Pasos de Fe, where the voices of children and adults could be heard in the background. The hum of activity was a reminder not only of the ways area shelters meet the needs of their community, but how on so many places along the border God’s human family is experiencing uncertainty, upheaval and stress.
Mani said that migrant families are “worried and confused.” Juárez has been housing asylum-seeking families for years as the U.S. government has implemented varying policies regarding asylum seeker reception and processing.
The decree ending Title 42, and the introduction of new measures at the border, can be found at the State Department website. Despite its claims of expanding “lawful pathways” by opening a new regional processing center, expanding access to the CBP One app and ramping up efforts to counter misinformation that is often spread by smugglers, many connected with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other faith groups have noted the cruelty inherent in the overall policy.
According to a blog post by the Office of Public Witness in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, “Title 42 has ended, but U.S. asylum policy is still unwelcoming,” the Biden administration “continues to pair expanded migration pathways with strict crackdowns on crossing the U.S.-Mexico border away from official ports of entry.”
The post criticizes recent steps by federal authorities, including barring most migrants who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border from asylum, the CBP One app requiring a recent smartphone and increased militarization. Migrants removed from the United States under the Title 8 authority that replaces Title 42 may not be able to re-enter the United States for at least five years.
“Together, these policy changes will send people in need of protection back to the dangerous conditions that they were trying to flee,” the post continues. “Christians should challenge harmful policies and rhetoric that lead to violence against our neighbors.” Submitting public comment opposing anti-migrant policies is one recommended response.
[Read the full blog post from the Office of Public Witness here.]
Last summer, the 225th General Assembly declared “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be a ‘Sanctuary and Accompaniment Church’ that supports and encourages its congregations, mid councils, and members to support immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and their children.” This declaration is validated by over a century of church policy that supports the work of accompanying communities of people who are on the move. [Read more about the GA decision here.] The ministries along the border, which provide support, assistance and care to migrant communities are examples of accompaniment.
What is the impact of U.S. policies on asylum seekers and accompaniers?
Mani said many of the government policies are harmful and talked about how post-Title 42 migrants will face new challenges, many to be learned about in the weeks ahead. She hears conversations over and over again asking the same question: “Do we go or do we not go?”
The toll impacts everyone. “Over 90% of the migrant shelters in Ciudad Juárez are operated by communities of faith, by churches,” Mani said. “Right before the end of Title 42, many of the shelters in Juárez were hosting families for about two months at a time, but some have had to wait up to six months for an appointment with Customs and Border Protection.”
The majority of the day-to-day operational management of the shelters and care for migrants has been covered by pastors. “The ministry of providing shelter is about providing dignity to migrants,” Mani said. “The response comes from their faith.”
The accompaniment work of pastors, many working as volunteers, can be exhausting. Mani explained that Abara provides pastoral care for pastors who are involved in this ministry, just as it provides food items to those staying at area shelters.
Like Mani, Nelsen with TRP Border Foundation praised the wider faith community in El Paso and Juárez, which he credited with carrying out “the vast majority of healing action in the area.”
What do you perceive will be the larger impacts of border policy changes for El Paso and Ciudad Juárez?
Nate Ledbetter, TRP Border Foundation’s coordinator, said that the El Paso-Juárez area had experienced a “blend of emotions” in anticipation of the end of Title 42.
“We’re attempting to rehumanize relationships outside the news cycle,” he said, noting that the attempts of politicians and others who say “they’re sending their worst” is another part of the anti-migrant narrative the local community disputes.
The foundation’s mission is to change that narrative and to highlight what Ledbetter called “the resilience, beauty, spirit and kindness on both sides of the border. This place is welcoming. It’s in our DNA.” That resilience and beauty are found within the migrant communities and the communities receiving them.
“At the shelter this morning, seeing little kids and mothers, I thought ‘Is this who we are afraid of?’”He recalled the 2019 mass murder of 28 people at an El Paso Walmart — an attack targeting “perceived Hispanic immigrants.”“It seems that the worst act of domestic terrorism here didn’t come from El Paso or across the border,” Ledbetter said. “It came from a young man who drove 650 miles to El Paso with a narrative in his head, a public manifesto, to ‘stop the immigrant invasion.’”
Dickson, who works at Annunciation House shelter in El Paso shelter, said that area shelters are safe places, “but it wasn’t safe for migrants to get here.” At Annunciation House, “people weep because they are on U.S. soil.” Many have traveled for months, surviving formidable obstacles such as the Darian Gap and threats from drug cartels.
How do we help people understand the story beyond the political rhetoric?
Miles with TPR Border Foundation said, “These are real people with names, smiles, fears.” To him, the border is the land and the people: how the river connects communities on both sides, including migrants who have traveled so far to reach new waters.
Carolyn Miller, ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church of Fort Davis, Texas, and another foundation board director, advised readers to “Come here and your narrative will be changed.”
TRP Border Foundation sees God’s presence in the work of area ministries and in the migrants themselves. Nelsen pointed out that many migrants cite their faith in God as the biggest reason for their survival.
Mani asked that people of faith across the United States be compassionate toward migrants wherever they accompany them. She knows and carries their stories. She also asked that people of faith in the United States remember the toll this work takes on border communities, especially communities in northern Mexico. May their faithful response encourage a larger faithful response.
For additional information about TRP Border Ministry Foundation, and opportunities to partner, visit TresRiosBorderFoundation.org