On the night of the 2020 presidential election, hundreds of migrants gathered in an all-night vigil to pray for deliverance for the type of prison they were in at a make-shift asylum camp on the Mexican-American border. They believed that God would deliver them. Though the prayers may not have been directly for a Biden victory, the prayers were that the election would lead to a more compassionate stance towards immigration. It was somewhat ironic as on the other side of the border, many Christians, particularly those who belong to the same evangelical/Pentecostal tradition of many of these Central American believers, were praying for the exact opposite result to occur.
The individuals that were in the camp in Matamoros, Mexico across from Brownsville, Texas had been there for many months. Some had been there for over a year. This was due to the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico Policy (or it’s official Orwellian name, the Migration Protection Protocol) and the subsequent Title 42 immigration restrictions that were enacted during COVID that shut down the border for asylum seekers completely.
The majority of these individuals in this initial camp in Matamoros under the Remain in Mexico policy were allowed to enter into the United States in the early spring of 2021 after Biden became president. One of the leaders in the asylum camp, Sandra, would later state that it was God who delivered them from the camp. She believed it would occur despite all the reasons to doubt. This move at least allowed these individuals to have their asylum hearing heard, though in many parts of the country, particularly in the Bible Belt, the rates for asylum are abysmal due to anti-immigrant judges. Our ministry, Practice Mercy, was able to work directly with these migrants over the course of many months. Though we did bring in supplies to assist and tried to direct them towards legal aid when appropriate, our primary purpose was to be a presence of Christ for them in the camp, to pray with them, and for them to know that there were people supporting them in the struggles they were going through.
Though there was an initial sigh of relief when many of these individuals were able to enter the country, the more insidious aspect of our border policy continued under the Biden Administration under the Title 42 COVID restrictions. While the camp closed down at Matamoros, due to this policy another makeshift camp opened up within months in neighboring Reynosa. Thousands of people are forced to sleep on the streets in horrific conditions where kidnapping, sexual assault, and violent crime are a daily reality. One of the most heartbreaking things we have seen are mothers who talk about how they can only sleep a couple of hours a night because of the fear of what will happen to their children in the middle of the night. Of course, many people do end up crossing through the river, but they have to pay the cartels to do this or they can be killed. The restrictive policies have essentially strengthened organized crime even more.
In in the fall of 2021, even as the US began to allow tourists to come from Mexico and made requirements for any individuals entering the country to have a COVID vaccination, they kept the restrictions for asylum seekers at the border. This demonstrated that this policy no longer had anything to do with COVID (if it ever really did). It was a roundabout way of keeping the border closed. There have certainly been some improvements under the Biden administration including not deporting minors entering the country by themselves and for the most part also allowing families with children under six years of age to remain in the country to have their asylum hearings. However, the widespread closure of the border continues. In December of 2021, due to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Remain in Mexico Policy is also being reestablished. Advocates are deeply concerned that this will cause an even greater humanitarian crisis at the border.
In the midst of this situation, our organization has continued to work with migrants, particularly indigenous women and children who are often mistreated by even other asylum seekers and are some of the most marginalized groups in Latin American society. Their faith, courage, and love for both God and their children is something that would put most of us to shame. The majority of these women have family in the United States. They are not looking for handouts, but rather they are simply looking for a place of safety and security in order to raise their children.
We believe firmly that Jesus called us to welcome the stranger as we welcome him. This is our duty as Christians. To reject the foreigners at our border is in many ways to reject the very face of Jesus. Unfortunately, much of the church in the United States has not only ignored the stranger but actually acted in hostility towards them. It has been at the forefront of more xenophobic policies. They are one of the groups that helped embolden Trump to implement more restrictive policies and has made Biden hesitant to reverse them.
One of our primary goals is to ensure that the American church understands what is occurring at the border, so it least can no longer claim ignorance about the stance it takes and the situation it is putting its brothers and sisters in. We are asking for those who are torn on the issue to come and see what is occurring and for those who are already sympathetic to become more engaged. We would love for you to come join us at the border.
Due to the less blatantly anti-immigrant stance of the current administration, sometimes the resistance to immigration policies are more muted, and unjust policies are allowed to continue. We ask for you to continue to contact your members of congress and demand that we actually allow asylum to resume. As people of faith, we implore you to continue to relay the pleas of those who are crying out to their father in heaven for deliverance and a chance to share in the goodness and plenty of his world, which we have covered with borders and walls. Jesus is waiting at our door. He’s knocking, however, when he knocks he might be in the form of a Guatemalan mother and child seeking not only a better life, but in some cases the chance to live at all. Will we welcome them in?