Ministry of Borders and Migration summit highlights episcopal mission amid constant upheaval – Episcopal News Service
[Episcopal News Service] During the fourth edition Summit of Border and Migration MinistriesOrganized by the Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Diocese of West Texas, experts discussed how the already complex situation along the US-Mexico border is changing day by day, and Episcopalians involved in missionary work the along the border have shared updates on how they have adapted their efforts to help migrants and refugees.
During the virtual conference from March 30-21, presenters discussed everything from the causes of migration to the changing demographics of migrants to the maze of logistics involved in accompanying migrants through their travels. The conference also included discussions on the theology of migration and perspectives on how changing parts of the US immigration enforcement system could benefit everyone involved.
The summit “was an inspiring reminder that there are vibrant migration ministries across the country,” said Kendall Martin, senior communications officer for the EMM. “Episcopalians serve asylum seekers at the border, operate shelters and respite centers, sponsor asylum seekers and newly arrived Afghans, fight the injustices of the immigration detention system, and advocate for the protection and the rights of all migrants. The summit provided an invaluable opportunity for those engaged in migration ministries to share their work, increase opportunities for engagement, and open doors for collaboration.
Migration experts provided the context in which the work of the Episcopal ministry unfolds, painting a picture of a desperate array of circumstances in Latin America and elsewhere colliding with an inadequate and inhumane system in the United States. crossing the border were mostly single Mexican men looking for jobs, said Cris Ramón, a consultant working on immigration issues with the Episcopal Church based in Washington, D.C. Government Relations Office. Today, he said, “we have a much more complex and diverse stream.”
“What you’re seeing now is a truly hemispheric set of migration events that I think…are going to require a whole new set of immigration policies,” Ramón said.
Over the past five years, the number of families and unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border has increased dramatically, and as of 2014 most are not from Mexico. In financial year 2021the U.S. Border Patrol reported more than 1.6 million migrant “encounters” along the U.S.-Mexico border – instances in which migrants were immediately deported at the border or apprehended and detained in the United States. This was by far the highest annual total on record, more than four times the number from the previous fiscal year.
Of those 1.6 million encounters, 36% involved families or unaccompanied minors, 63% involved non-Mexicans and 42% involved people from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Northern Triangle is one of most dangerous places on earth, plagued by gang violence, political instability and extreme poverty, all of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and climate change. And although their numbers remain small, migrants from Haiti and Cuba have risen sharply over the past three years as the two countries grapple with political and economic conflict.
In the meantime, there is a record number of arrears cases in US immigration courts: 1.7 million in February 2022, with an average wait time of nearly two and a half years.
Compounding the problem is “the ever-changing legal landscape all along the border,” said Troy Elder, missionary for migration ministries in the Diocese of San Diego. “Immigration law and policy have the shelf life of milk.”
This was underscored by a major legal development that took place during the conference. Of the myriad immigration policies discussed at the summit, the most debated was Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order issued during the Trump administration at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing the pandemic as a reason to stop people from entering the United States, Title 42 allows the government to deport migrants to their home countries immediately after apprehending them. This means that they do not have the possibility of applying for asylum – a legally protected process in which people who have entered the United States can ask to stay because it is too dangerous in their home country. While documented individuals are no longer barred from entering the United States for public health reasons, the Biden administration has kept Title 42 in place, effectively blocking asylum seekers.
On March 4, a the federal judge ruled that the government could not continue to deport migrants without ensuring that they would not be sent to a place where they would be persecuted. The Biden Administration offered exemptions for unaccompanied minors since January 2021.
On March 30, the first day of the summit, the news has fallen that the Biden administration planned to lift Title 42 restrictions in May; the CDC officially announced on April 1 that the restrictions will end on May 23.
Meanwhile, Episcopalians have continued to assist migrants and refugees at the border despite restrictions. Elder said two parishes in the Diocese of San Diego travel monthly to Mexican border shelters to help asylum seekers with children or serious health issues — or those who would face a specific threat if they returned. in their country of origin – complete exemption forms for present at the border.
Elder also showed video of trips by members from both parishes to border shelters, where they worked to improve infrastructure, administer the sacraments and host Christmas parties for children. Churches further from the border have helped by offering English classes via Zoom for adults in shelters; in another new program, they give adults in shelters debit cards they can use while waiting in Mexico, to which parishioners can add funds.
In the Diocese of West Texas, border towns like Brownsville and McAllen have seen large numbers of migrants arriving in the United States intending to reunite with their families elsewhere in the country, only to find themselves stuck in the region with no easy way to to move on. That of the diocese Immigration and Refugee Ministries Programestablished in 2019, directly assists migrants in a number of ways, including providing food and personal supplies, providing short-term accommodation for those released from detention without family or sponsors, and organizing volunteers who could host migrants at their home.
In partnership with local Lutherans, the diocese opened a day shelter in San Antonio – now an official United Nations-recognized border shelter – where migrants can rest, eat and get help with preparations for their journey. travel ; they bought a van to take the migrants to the airport, to the bus station or to a shelter for the night. Volunteers also help greet and orient migrants to Brownsville through the Brownsville Team, which provides basic humanitarian assistance at shelters and at the bus station and airport.
Representatives of the dioceses of Arizona and the Greater RioWe also shared updates on their work at the Borders Ministry, which includes working in shelters, supporting chaplaincies in detention centers, and developing pastoral relationships with Border Patrol agents.
The keynote speeches closed the two days of the summit. Immigrant Advocate Karen Gonzalez interpreted the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi through the lens of contemporary migration, noting the similarities between the two women and many migrants coming to the US-Mexico border. Their migration story ends in success, but if it had happened today, the outcome would have been very different, Gonzalez said.
“In this little Book of Ruth, we see what happens when citizens and non-citizens, men and women come together to work for the development of their communities. Everyone benefits; everyone is blessed. Ruth becomes a blessing to this community, and they in turn bless her by including her in their community as well,” Gonzalez said.
“I love this story. But reading it, it’s very hard not to wonder, ‘What if Ruth arrived today at the US-Mexico border? Would she be allowed in? What would he do? What would happen to Naomi without her?
In the closing remarks, the Rev. Nancy Frausto, director of the Latinx studies program and speaker at Southwestern Seminary in Austin, Texas, reminded attendees not to act as “saviors” for migrants. Frausto, born in Zacatecas, Mexico, immigrated to the United States as a child and is the first Episcopal priest to benefit from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“We must enter this ministry humbly, knowing that our main partners are the migrant community,” Frausto said.
“Too often we treat our migrant family like helpless, voiceless caricatures without seeing their full humanity. We forget to see their strength, their courage. We must honor them fully in our partnership with them for the liberation of all.