Rev. Randy Mayer made the familiar trip to the Comedor near the Mexico/US border last week. The Comedor is a small hillside compound where Jesuits, Sisters of the Holy Eucharist, Samaritans from Green Valley, Sahuarita and Tucson, No More Deaths members, and church volunteers from both sides of the border including Mayer and his congregants, provide migrants morning and evening meals, clothing, medical care, phone calls, legal advice, and psychological services. Guatemalan, Mexican, Honduran, and El Salvadoran Consulate officials cash deportee’s checks issued by US detention facilities that can’t be cashed in Mexican financial institutions.
That morning Mayer was assigned to do intake interviews. “In my 20 years here being engaged in front line immigration work, this was probably my most difficult and hopeless day,” he wrote to me. “There were probably 120 migrants looking for support. Most were coming from Guatemala and Honduras and wanting to seek asylum. There were a lot of women with children who were fleeing horrible domestic violence situations where their ex-husbands are trying to kill them. They had no idea that Attorney General Sessions has changed the laws and that they can't even apply, or if they do, they will be separated from their kids. It was so painful to see them process this news and they are so far from home.” There is no deterrence in what people don’t know. People with nothing to lose can’t be deterred.
These migrants have nowhere to go. “They can’t go back home because the cartels and gangs are waiting for them,” explained Mayer. Undocumented detainees learned gang life in US prisons and took it with them when they were deported. Today those American-born gangs in Latin America demand payments from families in exchange loved ones’ lives.
Mayer and his congregation care for two asylum-seeking families who entered the U.S. before the current administration changed the rules. A gang demanded payment in exchange for one of their teenager’s lives; relatives who couldn’t pay had already been murdered. So the family fled. “But now they would be turned away and most likely won't be able to qualify for asylum,” says Mayer. “A beautiful caring family that is experiencing pure evil.” Even now they fear being hunted down by the gangs. And if Mayer is right they face deportation and certain death.
The border situation is overwhelming available humanitarian resources. Mayer and the team from Good Shepherd also went to the DeConcini Port of Entry to support the families that are waiting in line to present themselves for asylum. “There are so many now,” Mayer wrote, “that there is a list of over 90 families on the wall so they won’t lose their place in line. It used to be that Border Patrol could process these asylum claims pretty quickly, 20 or more a day at the Nogales port of entry. Now they are doing 3 to 5 a day. Just so that people can suffer.”
On Thursday Attorney General Sessions quoted from Romans 13 in an attempt to defend the US policy responsible for what Mayer and others on our Southern Border are witnessing. Attorney General Sessions, let me quote from Isaiah regarding your terrorizing of migrants and their children.
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
That’s what the Bible says about current US immigration and border enforcement policy, about separating children from their parents and warehousing them in detention facilities, about denying asylum to people being hunted down by gangs and cartels, about telling women that domestic violence is not an asylum-worthy life circumstance.
This is what sacred texts say about welcoming refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants in our land:
“Bring water to the thirsty, meet the fugitive with bread... For they have fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the stress of battle.” - Isaiah 21:14-15
“And (as for) those who believed and fled and struggled hard in Allah's way, and those who gave shelter and helped, these are the believers truly; they shall have forgiveness and honorable provision.” - Quran 8:74
“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” - Deuteronomy 10:19
Thousands of people across America have worked to fulfill these encouragements for decades. “But the current crisis at the border with parents and families being separated and the tragic changes in the asylum laws immigrant families are beating our spirits down as we watch the most vulnerable migrants barely clinging to life. It is difficult being in the eye of the storm, bringing Jesus’ compassion to an evil situation in which our current US administration is purposely seeking to inflict pain and cruelly destroy people’s lives,” says Mayer.
The work is too big for any one faith community or denomination or religion. People of every faith must cry out with the words of their sacred texts – words of welcome, words, of hospitality, words of judgement for oppressors, words of solidarity for the oppressed – to shout down the policies that are turning away refugees and terrorizing migrant families and especially their children. As a person of faith I offer my partnership with people of no particular faith who
are crying out in the name of human rights to end the inhumane and unjust treatment of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees at our nation’s borders. Together let us speak with one voice. For we ourselves are only as safe as the most vulnerable among us. We ourselves are only as welcome as ones knocking at our doors.
Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons
Southwest Conference UCC