In the last year, FirstPres Hayward has experienced the privilege of being able to serve migrants- both locally and across the border- in a number of ways.
We have supported the needs of unaccompanied immigrant youth in Hayward schools, providing them with school supplies, backpacks, Clipper cards, and winter coats, while also providing temporary housing for one student who was facing homelessness. We have supported the legal cases of several different community members facing threats of deportation or seeking sanctuary, writing letters of support, attending court hearings, and providing options for physical sanctuary. We collectively attended a rally to protest family separations at the border, and also were able to participate in a non-violent action, at the California/Mexico border. We sent supplies, medicine, and cots to help meet the needs of migrants who are being housed at churches in Tijuana while waiting to be processed. We formed an accompaniment team that supported a young, pregnant mother for several months, helping her get food and other resources. We hosted a workshop on creative housing solutions for unaccompanied immigrant youth, with nearly 50 members from the community in attendance.
Through it all, I have personally been learning much about what it means to live out the call of Leviticus 19:34: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” In many ways, I have been struck by the ways that each time that our church acts in generosity to love and serve migrants in our community, that we are actually learning how to love ourselves. We are learning how to honor the dignity in all people, and remember that God’s family extends across borders.
In the face of all that we have been able to participate in, I am also increasingly concerned and personally heartbroken by what is happening at our border, and some recent developments that have occurred.
I am by no means an expert on what’s happening, but here are a few recent updates:
The number of migrants coming to the border seeking asylum has hit the highest total in almost a decade. The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended more than 66,000 migrants in February and 76,000 in March. The majority of those arrested were families or children traveling alone or without a parent, and are fleeing the harms caused by corruption, gangs, poverty, political upheaval, and environmental vulnerabilities in their home countries.
On Saturday, the State Department acknowledged that it was cutting off an estimated $700 million in humanitarian aid- to three Central American countries- Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Most analysts argue that development aid is needed to tackle some of the “root causes” of migration and address the reasons why people are seeking asylum.
The Trump Administration, throughout the past week, has threatened the closure of the entire U.S.- Mexico border if a deal with Congress is not made to address immigration reform. Most economists agree that closing the entire border could affect more than $1.6 billion worth of goods that cross back and forth over the border every day.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is calling for Congress to allow unaccompanied children from Central America to be deported back to their home countries rather than being taken into custody by Department of Health and Human Services and placed in the care of a sponsor or family member. She has also reinforced the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, which forces certain asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until their cases are fully resolved in the U.S.
The Trump administration has put a pause on the hiring of immigration judges, which will cause further delays in many asylum cases and will increase the government’s overwhelming backlog of cases
Despite Trump’s claim that he would end the policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border in June 2018, reports show that at least 245 children have been removed from their families since then, and some of these separations are occurring with no formal notification to the refugee resettlement office. The lack of accurate records suggests that there may be more children unaccounted for.
In the face of all that is happening, I confess that it is easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed. It is easy to feel confused about how to respond, and how to engage the tensions of living as a citizen of God’s kingdom and a citizen of the United States. It is easy to feel torn between protecting borders and national security, and honoring the dignity and lives of sacred human beings. And it is especially easy to just tune out and ignore what’s happening, because it feels so BIG and impossible.
In this Lenten season, I feel especially compelled to pray for what’s happening at the border- not so much because I think prayer will magically solve all the problems of the border, but because I know that my own heart needs to be softened. My heart needs to be changed. My heart needs to be filled with the faith, hope, and imagination that God’s heart carries, in the face of all that’s happening at the border. My heart needs to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, to know how to act.
Would you commit yourself to praying, daily, for all of the families and children who are currently in detention, in shelters waiting to be processed, or on the journey towards seeking asylum? Would you be praying for our government- to act with wisdom and compassion? Would you be praying for all that’s happening in Central America- for continued healing, transformation, and peace to reign, for the root causes to be addressed so that people would not have to flee their homes and leave their families behind?
Here are a few different resources for prayer:
A Prayer for Immigrants (and a Prayer of Confession)- Evangelicals for Social Action
May we not forget the thousands of migrant families and children whose lives are in complete upheaval, who are facing a myriad of physical, mental, familial, political, and socioeconomic hardships. May we remember them as if they were our own family, and may God’s Spirit continue to lead us as we discern our response.