In April I took at trip to the San Diego border with Women of Welcome in partnership with World Relief. When I returned, my friends asked me how it was, and I couldn’t find an answer to that question with a word or phrase. It was an overwhelming trip. Many asked what we did while we were there, and I decided that the only way to answer was by writing from my heart:
What did we do? We saw; we listened; we learned; we cried; and we prayed.
We saw in Tijuana–
- families living in shelters as they wait for their asylum claims to be heard.
- little children and their mothers dependent on the generosity of others for food and a place to sleep safely.
- loving care for migrant families in a church that also became a shelter.
- a group of homeless women and children walking down a street with their meager belongings.
- to sacrificial Jesus-followers caring for migrants in Tijuana while they wait for their initial asylum claims to be heard to determine if they even have a chance at asylum. If so, they may be allowed to enter the U.S. with either an ankle monitor or an electronic device that they must use to check in weekly.
- to Christians in San Diego and Orange County, California caring for the immigrants among them.
- to immigrants asking for asylum who are in the U.S. because they’ve had an initial hearing that finds their claims of danger (often religious persecution) credible enough to warrant a full hearing.
- to two Christian border patrol agents who joined the force to keep our country safe from terrorists and drug smugglers, but now spend much of their time processing migrants since there is no good way for them to seek asylum other than crossing the border.
- to two young men seeking asylum who have been embraced by churches in California and who learned about Jesus by the love they received.
- that the immigration system is very broken, worse than I imagined.
- that families are being separated: husbands are taken from wives and children.
- that because of the backlog and limited funds provided by Congress for judges to hear these cases, it takes an average of 4.5 years after asylum seekers come to the U.S. to have their hearings.
- that asylum seekers can apply for work permits after a few months but may end up waiting another year or more for the permit. While they wait, they must either live off of the generosity of relatives, churches, mosques, and nonprofits while they wait for their work permits, or they work illegally–often at below minimum wage because the business owners know that the migrants won’t turn them in for fear of deportation.
- what the reality of making a decision to run from a dangerous country looks like and the unlikelihood of being accepted as an asylum-seeker even when coming from dangerous countries. Thus, they plant their families and homes here for years waiting for their final hearing and over 50% of them aren’t granted asylum. (This doesn’t necessarily mean their case was fraudulent, but just that they didn’t have enough hard proof of the persecution they were fleeing.) Then they are uprooted from the home they’ve made here and deported.
- That about 75% of immigrants in the US are lawfully present, including all who are admitted as refugees.
- that 20 years after arriving, the average refugee adult has contributed approximately $21,000 more in taxes than received.
- That refugees are the most thoroughly vetted of any category of immigrant.
Thus, we cried and prayed–
- over the injustice and brokenness in our system.
- over the lack of concern in our own churches for those seeking a safe country in which to raise their children.
- over those like the young man from Venezuela whose dream is to see his mother again since it’s been nine years since they were together. He and his father desperately ran from danger when he as a teenager. His father had already been kidnapped once, and there was a high probability that it would happen again.
- over the millions of people who have been displaced by war, persecution. And we grieved over the meager numbers of immigrants we allow in our rich country and the injustice of our broken system.
God commands His people to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13), which literally means to “practice loving strangers” – and those who do so have welcomed angels without realizing it (Hebrews 13:2). May we do for others as we would have them do for us, as Jesus commanded. We can have strong borders and humane treatment for the stranger.