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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Churches Assist Separated Families at the Border

Churches Assist Separated Families at the Border

The controversial policy of separating children from families at the border has provoked strong reaction from Christian leaders and has resulted in President Trump signing an executive order halting the practice. But it has also resulted in churches assisting asylum seekers and families who have been affected by the policy.
One church in Texas is working to find housing and to bring awareness of conditions in detention centers to its congregation. They are also assisting families on both sides of the border. Pastor John Garland has led his church to respond after a recent trip to the border:
His own congregation has provided office space for the Migrant Center for Human Rights, a legal aid organization for asylum seekers in Texas. A group of people in the church is pursuing foster care certification to care for children who may have to wait a long time to be reunited with their parents.
The Mennonite Central Committee is also working to train lay church members in legal advocacy for immigrants:
As part of the project, MCC U.S. has provided scholarships to more than 30 Anabaptist church members to attend its week-long Immigration Legal Training. The first 17 attended a training in September, and others in January and February. A few remaining scholarships are still available for the September 2018 training.
Meanwhile, far from the border, a church in Seattle gathered the community to find ways to assist immigrants detained at the nearby SeaTac Federal Detention Center:
Hundreds of community members packed a meeting at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle on Wednesday to find out how to help asylum seekers detained in SeaTac and Tacoma.
The overflow crowd at the church included lots of mothers with their own young children in tow. The children played with matchbox cars in the back of the room while immigration lawyers and religious leaders provided updates and answered questions.
Many churches are asking what specific things they can do to help. Matthew Soerens, a spokesman for World Relief, highlights some nonprofits doing this work:
Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, says several nonprofits are working with immigrant kids who have been separated from their parents.
Many of those kids are classified as “unaccompanied minors” if they aren’t reunited with parents, says Soerens.
Bethany Christian Services, he says, helps provide foster care for unaccompanied minors. Right now the group is working in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Catholic Charities also has a similar foster care program around the country, which it runs for the Office of Refugee Management.
It’s also helpful to try to fully understand the complex situation at the border. The latest Quick to Listen Podcast is a great resource in unpacking exactly what is going on. Morgan Lee and Mark Galli spoke with Sister Norma, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley on the border of Mexico.
Even if we are not in a position to go to the border to help separated families, we can welcome the immigrant neighbors around us. My own church in Nashville has a ministry to Egyptian immigrants. Ilona Hadinger, in a piece for (Love Thy Immigrant Neighbor), shares some practical ways we can come alongside the foreigner and stranger in our communities. Here a few of her suggestions:
  • Help enroll children in the local school and accompany them in buying school supplies.
  • Introduce them to a local doctor or dentist. Show them where the closest hospital is and provide phone numbers in case of an emergency. If applicable, explain how insurance works. (Note: many cities have volunteer clinics for undocumented immigrants. Investigate this in your area.)
  • Teach them how to navigate public transportation, or provide rides.
  • Show them where to buy groceries and where to find ingredients for their native meals (if possible).
The issue of immigration is, of course, complex. Good people disagree on the exact policy prescriptions, but we can all do our part to advocate for and welcome those God has sent to live among us.

Daniel DarlingDaniel Darling

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