We went across the border to help make improvements to a shelter that is now housing asylum-seekers sent back to Mexico to await their immigration hearings.
This shelter was already doing important work, providing a safe refuge for victims of domestic abuse and feeding the neighborhood schoolchildren every afternoon.
Our government had turned these asylum-seekers away and sent them back, so this shelter that was already doing so much opened their doors and let them in.
“I was a stranger and you invited me in,” Jesus said to those who were judged righteous. This parable in Matthew 25 burns in my heart today.
The words in this passage – and it is one of many admonitions throughout the Bible to be hospitable to strangers – are being shockingly ignored.
Asylum-seekers are not illegally crossing into our borders. International law gives them the right to petition our government for asylum if they are in fear for their lives in their home countries.
According to a border patrol agent we met with in El Paso, the vast majority of asylum-seekers arrive at legal points of entry and turn themselves in.
Even though, according to international law, they can cross the border and then ask for asylum.
However, a change in U.S. policy is now sending Central American asylum-seekers from some of the most dangerous countries in our hemisphere back into Mexico to await a trial in the U.S. to determine their status.
Churches in the U.S. who had begun to open shelters to meet the growing need are now separated from the people they wanted to help. Legal assistance teams are now separated from their clients.
We had a humanitarian crisis building at the border, we were told. Many said we don’t have the resources to shelter such high numbers of migrants.
If it is such a strain on our budgets to care for these people, how can we hand off this responsibility to a country with violence and poverty issues far greater than our own?
This policy has been touted as a win in the ongoing battle to combat illegal immigration.
These asylum-seekers have been characterized as caravans of people, “many of whom are criminals, drug dealers and rapists” who are invading our country.
This kind of language paints a far different picture from what I encountered in Juarez.
I met and worked with families, some with small children toddling about in the cold morning in fleece onesies.
I met a father who proudly introduced his beautiful teenage daughter, and I could only wonder if her safety was the reason that he was fleeing his country.
I saw mothers washing their family laundry in pans of soapy water and hanging it on wires strung between buildings and trees.
They were not an army marching into our country to take over. Nor were these asylum-seekers here illegally.
America is a land of plenty, and when we pool our resources together, we are big givers.
Why then have we decided that those who are knocking on our door right now, those who are seeking asylum from violence, extreme poverty and severe droughts can be sent away and given nothing to ease their burdens?
Only a fraction of those seeking asylum will now have access to legal assistance. The latest policy change places restraints on work permits for those who came into the U.S. seeking asylum before the “migration protection protocols” – often referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” plan – was implemented.
Jesus made it clear that when we help those in need, we are serving him. That is how much people in need mean to him.
If we want to serve Jesus, we must take care of the least of these, the neediest and most vulnerable among us.
He made it personal. I am that oppressed person, he tells us in Matthew 25.
It will cost us to provide humane assistance, and it is an ongoing problem. Solutions to the crises in their homelands must also be found, and it will take dedicated effort from all the wealthier nations in this hemisphere to inspire hope and to assist those who are already trying to make things better.
Servanthood has never been an easy road.
We have multiple draws on our resources trying to keep the standard of living high in our country for as many people as possible.
People within our borders lack adequate health care, clothing and shelter. Others need a way to return to society after prison or need food when they are hungry.
We are called to work on their behalf as well, but we can’t forget the stranger. If we do not show hospitality to the strangers among us, we shut the door in the face of Jesus himself.
Joyce Holley is a member of Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas.