Fellowship Southwest / immigration

Wherever the refugees are, that’s where we’ll be

By Marv Knox

An intriguing and disconcerting message popped up on my telephone screen late last week.

“I just got out from the meeting in Juarez … talking about the MPP changes,” wrote Rosalio Sosa, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Tierra de Oro in El Paso and leader of Fellowship Southwest’s efforts to minister to asylum seekers clustered across the Rio Grande in Juarez and in other parts of the state of Chihuahua.

Rosalio sent a link to an article, which I couldn’t read because it was written in Spanish. But a quick online search using the term “MPP update” revealed what had captured his attention: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had voted 2-1 to uphold a lower court’s ruling that MPP—the Trump Administration’s so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, also called “Remain in Mexico,” because they require asylum seekers to wait out their immigration process in Mexico—is unconstitutional.

The ruling set off a frenzy. “People getting crazy in Juarez,” Rosalio wrote a couple of hours later. “Everybody’s trying to run to the bridge. We talked to them. … They have to remain calm.”

Later that evening, the Ninth Circuit suspended the order it issued earlier in the day, pushing a ruling further down the calendar.

Reading Rosalio’s messages—all that afternoon and evening—my mind traveled to the border. I know where those refugees live in Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, Juarez, Palomas and Tijuana. Those are the communities where Fellowship Southwest is helping local pastors and their churches feed and protect and encourage these beloved immigrants.

We’ve looked into their eyes as they told us their stories. We know how they’ve suffered violence and persecution, poverty and extortion, economic and cultural catastrophe. We know they don’t really want to leave their homelands and start all over in the United States, except they feel they have no other alternative.

So we can only imagine the surge of hope that filled their hearts when they thought they might have a chance to cross the border, to await their futures in the United States. If a court said MPP is unconstitutional, then a court might give them a better chance for asylum.

While my heart filled with hope for the refugees, my mind raced with more specific concerns. I agreed with the court’s ruling, but I wondered about practical matters, such as how we could care for all these refugees if they suddenly crossed the border. Their situations in Mexico are dire. But many folks who love them—not just Fellowship Southwest but scores of other groups—have created shelters and figured out how to feed and care for them in Mexico. If they crossed the border, they might be happy, but homeless. How could we feed and protect them? How quickly could we act? How efficiently could we serve?

I knew I didn’t have all those answers. But I knew I had one answer, and my friend Rosalio—and then the other pastors on the border—needed to receive it. “We will keep supporting you, no matter where the immigrants are,” I typed on my screen. “Grateful for you. Praying for you and the immigrants. … We’ll work steadily and faithfully.”

In the past few days, my heart and mind have ridden a roller coaster of emotions alongside these dear refugees. Hope. Despair. Wonder. Doubt. Resignation. Resolution.

None of us knows when policies might be amended and when circumstances might change. But one thing is certain: God calls us to love the alien and the stranger and the weak and the vulnerable. Jesus tells us we will be judged by how we treat “the last of these.” And so we will do everything in our power to feed and shelter and protect and advocate for the refugees seeking asylum in our nation.

Wherever the refugees are, that’s where we’ll be.

If you’d like to support Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Ministry, click here.

Marv Knox is field coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an ecumenical, multicultural CBF network encompassing Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California and Texas.

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