6 ways that Bay Area churches can respond to the migrant crisis

This morning, I read a piece on CNN online about the crisis at our border, and came across the photo that’s been circulating- of the Salvadoran father and his 23 month old daughter, lying facedown in the water of the Rio Grande.

My daughter is currently 23 months old, and I can’t unsee the photo.

My heart breaks, thinking about the last moments that the father had with his daughter, and the emotions that must have been going through both of their bodies in those moments.

My heart breaks, thinking about the rest of their family, and all the trauma they left behind in El Salvador, only to face more trauma, brutality, loss, and injustice on their journey.

My heart breaks, for all of the migrants, including thousands of children, who are being detained without adequate food, sanitation, and water in squalid conditions. And my heart is angered by the ways that Trump’s policies have specifically led to decline, and the ways that private equity tycoons are profiting from these mass detentions.

Holding cell for children at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. Photo via Ross D. Franklin (AP)

Holding cell for children at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. Photo via Ross D. Franklin (AP)

My heart breaks, for the close to 1,000 families who have experienced separation through detention, even after an executive order signed one year ago which “ended” a policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

My heart breaks, for all of the unaccompanied immigrant youth, who have made treacherous journeys on their own, leaving behind family and familiarity, and forced to navigate our immigration system and a new country, culture, language, and reality, all on their own.

My heart breaks, for all those who remain in areas of Central America that are continually racked by gang violence, poverty, corrupt government, and see no way out.

It can all feel very overwhelming at times.

While the House just passed a bill yesterday, which approves $4.5 billion in emergency funding and aid for this crisis, along with additional health standards, safety measures, and time limits for children and adults detained by the government, there is still much work to be done.

The ongoing threats of mass deportations, the unjust and inhumane conditions of detention, the lack of due process for asylum seekers, the meager support systems for newcomers once they are released from detention, and the ongoing violence and unrest in many Central American countries, are all forces that continue pitting people against one another. They are forces that strip people of their fundamental human and legal rights. They are forces that violate many Biblical impulses, such as:

  • “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

  • “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the way of the wicked.” (Psalm 146:9)

  • “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:34–36)

American Friends Service Committee

American Friends Service Committee

As people of faith, it is imperative that we use our words, our resources, our political power, and our collective witness to continue fighting for both the practical needs of these migrants, as well as their political and legal needs.

The reality is, that we don’t act just because we are mandated to. We don’t act to appease our guilt. We don’t act because we have all the solutions.

We act, because every single migrant in our community bears the image of God, and gives us the opportunity to encounter Jesus, in the flesh, in unexpected ways. We act because by loving our neighbors, we learn how to love God and to love ourselves more fully. We act because it helps us to live as more fully human.

And while it can feel overwhelming to try to respond to the national crisis, there are some ways to respond to what’s happening in the Bay Area, to serve the needs of migrants and asylum seekers in our local community. Bay Area churches have an immense amount of collective wealth- the power of faith, our education, the expansiveness of social networks, a diversity of material resources, and all kinds of social and emotional capital- which can help serve these communities in some very concrete ways.

Here are 6 simple ways that Bay Area churches can serve migrants in our community, locally:

  • Donate: Many local organizations are completely overstretched in their capacity to provide legal relief and would benefit from increased funding. Consider taking up a special church offering and providing donations to local legal service organizations, such as Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Pangea Legal Services, and Centro Legal de La Raza. Or to find something in your city, check out this document for a more comprehensive list of Bay Area legal resources. You may also consider donating to the work of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, which mobilizes local faith congregations in a wide range of ways to support immigrants in crisis.

  • Advocate: Take time during church services, small group gatherings, or other meetings to have members make calls to local elected officials and express specific concerns. Consider calling individuals such as Senators, your local Congressman(ours is Eric Swalwell), your district supervisor, or city council member. Find numbers and potential scripts online here.

  • Become a Sanctuary Church: If your church hasn’t done so already, consider having your church sign the “Pledge to Resist Deportation and Discrimination through Sanctuary.” Learn more about this opportunity through the New Sanctuary Movement website here.

  • Encourage congregation members to be housing hosts: Many of the newcomers who arrive into our communities after being released from detention, struggle to find a job and housing. If you know folks who have space in your home, ask them to consider being a host and providing housing to someone in crisis. If you are interested in opening up your home, please fill out this housing intake form here to become part of a database of potential housing hosts in the Bay Area.

  • Participate in Pack the Court Events: People of faith can use their bodies as a collective witness in support of migrants in our community, by showing up to court hearings that impact their immigration cases.Sign up for the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity email list to learn more about local events and opportunities, and consider having members of your church attend a pack the court event together.

  • Create an Accompaniment Team: Consider inviting members of your church to create an accompaniment team, ideally a team of 5–6 individuals, who can come alongside a newcomer in our community as they transition to a new life. As an accompaniment team, you will receive training and will work together to offer your time, your presence, and your resources to somebody, as they navigate the various needs that they have. For more on how to create such a team, contact the Nueva Esperanza team at: info@im4humanintegrity.org

Consider, this Sunday, reciting the Immigrants Creed together, at church, and taking a moment of silence to discern how you might respond, together.

For a more comprehensive list of ways to respond that aren’t just limited to the Bay Area, check out this amazing document here.

And for any other PC(USA) folks, check out denominational resources for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through the Advocacy Ministryand Disaster Ministries.