The El Paso District responding to the needs of Asylum Seekers in the Borderlands
Asylum Seekers at El Calvario UMC-Las Cruces
History: Legal Asylum Seekers coming across the southern border into the El Paso/Las Cruces area is certainly nothing new. Annunciation House, in collaboration with churches across denominations, including the UMC, have been reaching out to “the stranger” since the 1970’s. El Calvario UMC, Las Cruces was repurposed to serve asylum seekers on a weekly basis beginning in early 2018. Tobin Park UMC, El Paso is outfitted to serve asylum seekers, and received families on a weekly basis until recently. The number of refugees overall fluctuates, but the churches and organizations in the El Paso/Las Cruces area have experienced recent periods of dramatic increase and strain on their resources followed by the need moving elsewhere.
Remain in Mexico Implications: The decrease that we are seeing today is related in part to the Remain in Mexico policy, more formerly known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). With this policy, many asylum seekers are being returned to Mexico to await their court dates associated with their asylum cases. They may need housing for 3-4 months. In Juarez alone, 8,000 migrants have been enrolled in the Remain in Mexico program. The shelter of our sister denomination, the Methodist Church, is housing 130 people in a space designed to shelter less than 50.
Mexico Visits: On Aug. 20th, a group of ~20 people traveled to Juarez on a fact-finding and prayer vigil visit. On November 21-23, a Borderlands Summit will convene including national UMC task force representatives and bishops to tour facilities and conditions on both sides of the border. Bishop Bledsoe and the El Paso District will host this gathering.
What’s Happening Now? El Calvario has committed to provide a meal to asylum seekers staying at the Santa Fe Bridge in Juarez. The commitment is to provide lunch every Tuesday at 2 pm for approximately 200 people. We provide a homestyle meal, preferable a one dish casserole that is easy to serve and some fruit. Volunteers prepare the meals either at their homes or their church. They are asked to deliver it hot at El Calvario by 11:30 am on Tuesday. We gather at El Calvario at 11:30 am on Tuesday to load up the van with food and needed supplies (tables, plates, trash bags, etc.) and depart from El Calvario at 12:00. Twelve volunteers can ride in the van to Juarez or drive their own vehicles, park in El Paso downtown parking lot ($5), cross the bridge by foot and meet the team on the Juarez side. Crossing the bridge by foot is very easy and the families are right across the bridge. Someone with experience will accompany you.
Once in Juarez, the volunteers will help unload supplies, set up tables, coordinate line, serve, clean, dispense sanitizer, etc. Other volunteers will organize activities and games with the children. Every volunteer needs to have a valid passport, bring some money for the bridge fee (about a quarter), and money to enjoy the delicious paletas (ice pops) they sell at the Michoacana (we also want to support the local economy). Once the meal is served and children’s activities finished, volunteers will help clean up and loading supplies. Return to Las Cruces will vary depending on the length of the line at the bridge, until now, it hasn’t been longer than 5 minutes.
Volunteers can contribute by going and/or by providing a meal to take. We ask that volunteers reserve a spot by texting Triny Rivera at 575-650-2938 no later than Monday morning.
Strategically Moving Forward: Bishop Border Strategies Letter
The Borderland Hospitality House Board have held several meetings where they elected officials and voted on by-laws in order to gain 501c3 status. This is our effort to establish a permanent shelter facility for overflow space, should we need to shelter asylum seekers again and to re-establish relationships and ministry in the Segundo Barrio.
Several members of the El Paso District attended a borderlands summit hosted by the Rio Texas Conference to discuss how U.S. policy changes necessitate a shift in how the UMC addresses the needs of asylum seekers. Our Conference is in the process of creating an El Paso JFON site, so our group specifically intended to connect with other Justice for our Neighbors (JFON) advocates. They have interviewed board members and should have their first board meeting in mid-October. For more information, please contact Nicole Crouch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who are we serving? The majority of the asylum seekers our churches serve are single parents traveling with small children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, who are escaping horrible poverty and violence by taking the long, dangerous journey to the U.S. The U.S. Government has requested that we join with other organizations to house these families for a few days while we assist them in making travel arrangements to reunite with their sponsors, and we hope to show them the love of Christ as we meet their health, hygiene and comfort needs for their short stay.
How can you help?
“We are preparing for a long commitment so, above all things, we need your prayers for all those who are part of this ministry: the asylum seekers, our Government agencies, our church-related shelters, every volunteer, and those in leadership of these efforts.” El Paso District DS, Rev. Eddie Rivera
Financial Donations: Please send your donations to the NM Conference Office.
Griselda Sandoval, Treasurer, 11816 Lomas Blvd. NE, ABQ 87112. Churches may use the online payment dropdown menu.
They can be assembled personally or at local churches and donated. Otherwise, all of these items, along with the General items can also be separately donated individually or in bulk quantities.
You may also donate to El Calvario UMC online through their Amazon Wish List: Click here.
If you speak Spanish, have medical training or drive a large multiple passenger vehicle, you are greatly needed. The people in Las Cruces & El Paso have been serving this need for many months and would love new volunteers to join them in this ministry of welcoming the stranger. If you do not fit these parameters, your help is also needed to clean, cook, sort supplies, transport people, etc.
Tobin Park: Tobin Park is currently NOT receiving asylum seekers. Contact: Bob Hedicke, Tobin Park Site Manager, to make arrangements by phone at 915-490-1001 or email email@example.com.
El Calvario: Las Cruces recently closed their city shelter. Asylum seekers will be distributed to the various church shelters via coordinated release by Border Patrol. El Calvario is still in the process of renovating their facility to bring it up to health & fire dept. code, but they will be receiving guests. To volunteer at El Calvario in Las Cruces, contact Susana Torres, Volunteer Coordinator and Admin Officer, at 575-524-1230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.