The Church at Work on the Border

By Gail Hanula

“Aid Worker arrested for giving water to two men who illegally crossed the US/Mexico border.”  What, I thought, shouldn’t the crime be NOT giving water to people in need?  It took 2 years for this young man to be found not guilty, and the image of someone leaving a jug of water for a thirsty traveler stayed with me. No one should have to die of thirst. 

This spring I learned that a United Methodist Immigration Ministry, Justice for Our Neighbors – Arizona, was offering a virtual border trip.  I signed up and was really glad I did. While it was uplifting to see the church at work on the border, there are many needs. Most of the people trying to cross the border want to come here legally. They are seeking asylum because they are afraid for their lives, often because of violence from drug cartels. The US has a system for asylum seekers, but during the Pandemic it was shut down (Title 42) and it has not been fully restarted.  On our virtual trip we visited Cruzando Fronteras, an interfaith-funded shelter in Nogales, Mexico for women and families seeking asylum. Justice for Our Neighbors – Arizona provides legal support to asylum seekers at the shelter in documenting their cases. JFON – AZ also provides immigration legal services, engages in advocacy for immigrant rights and offers education to communities of faith and to the public about immigration.

Long delays and uncertainty of when the US’s official asylum-seeking process will begin again are reasons why people look for other ways to get here.  Well-organized smugglers charge large fees to take people to remote places that are less likely to be patrolled. The groups travel at night and people sometimes get separated from their groups and lost in the desert. Access to water is a critical need of border crossers. We visited Humane Borders, an organization that maintains water tanks in the desert on private and government property with permission. The tanks are marked with blue flags so they are more visible to people in need of water.  Unfortunately, vigilantes have poisoned the water in the past and shot bullet holes in the tanks so the tanks must be checked often and the water sampled. 

When people do get to the US, many are stopped by Border Control and sent back to Mexico, some make it to their destinations, and sadly, some die in the desert. A representative from the Colibri Center for Human Rights told us of their work with the Office of the Pima County (AZ) Medical Examiner in notifying families of those known to have perished in the desert, allowing their families to have closure.

You can be a part of ministry at the border by praying and writing to your Senators and Representatives that Title 42 will be rescinded and the Biden administration will fulfill its promise to reinstate the asylum-seeking process at the Ports of Entry. In addition, prayers are appreciated for the staff at these humanitarian agencies, as are financial contributions. There are also opportunities to volunteer. 

If you are interested in learning more, another 4-session virtual trip is planned for August 5, 12, 19 and 26 at 4:30 pm Eastern.  An in-person trip is planned for October, 2021, COVID situation permitting.  Contact Scott Morris at Justice for Our Neighbors – Arizona for more information.