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Witnessing Cruelty and Compassion on a Dominican Highway

By Stephen Deal

With three traveling companions, we were nearing the end of a long drive from Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic) to Dajabon on the Dominican border with Haiti. Our trip had been marked by delays: the morning rush-hour traffic as we left Santo Domingo, a major traffic tie-up at a toll booth where the electronic payment system was down, a herd of cows blocking the highway.

We thought the worst was behind us when we rounded a curve and came upon the scene of a recent truck accident. A large crane was just beginning to lift the container portion of a tractor-trailer out of a ravine. Both lanes of the 2-lane highway were blocked. We had no choice but to wait until the crane finished the job and the highway could be reopened.

Notwithstanding the midday heat and humidity, I decided to get out of our vehicle to stretch my legs. A small group of curious onlookers had already formed to watch as the crane went about its work.

Suddenly, an oddly-shaped white truck drove to the front of the line on our side of the accident site. At first, I only saw three men in the cab of the truck. My first thought was, “What makes them so special that they can go to the front of the line?”

When they got out, all three turned out to be Dominican immigration officials. In that moment, I realized that their vehicle was part of the fleet of vehicles used by Dominican immigration authorities to expel undocumented Haitians, or those suspected of being undocumented migrants, back into Haiti at border crossings such as Dajabon.

I decided to inspect the rear portion of their truck more closely. When I got to the back, I came face-to-face with the anguished, exhausted faces of men, women and children who had been packed into the truck’s cargo space. Inhumane doesn’t begin to describe the conditions in which they were being transported.

No one was seated, not even the children. They were packed in, shoulder to shoulder, so tightly that no one could move (or lose their balance). The only source of ventilation was the cage-like wiring across the rear of the vehicle. The people at the very back of that “mobile cage” could breathe, albeit with difficulty; those packed into the interior of the truck must have been suffering terribly from the heat and lack of oxygen.

Most of the motorists who had gotten out of their vehicles continued to pay more attention to the crane operation than the plight of the “human cargo” in the immigration vehicle, with one notable exception. There was a Dominican woman who was not going to stand idly by; she was determined to do something to alleviate their human suffering. I never got her name but I’m going to call her “Amparo”.

She began going vehicle-to-vehicle, knocking on car windows and asking motorists to donate whatever water they could. I went back to our vehicle and collected all the water bottles we had, full or not. The water bottles that the two of us collected weren’t enough for everyone in the cargo space of that truck but it was enough for those at the very back, including the children. Their parents thanked us.

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Mt 10:42 – NIV)

It was evident that these detainees were not only dehydrated, but also hungry. “Amparo” and I decided to go back to the motorists in that line of cars to ask for food donations. As quickly as it began, however, this human drama ended. The crane finished its work, the highway was cleared, and traffic began to move again.
The first vehicle that got through was the immigration vehicle. In a half hour, maybe less, that truck would reach the Dominican-Haitian border at Dajabon to unload its human cargo and then return to Santo Domingo for another trip.

As Regional Representative for AMMPARO, there have been many occasions when I have witnessed the inhumane treatment of migrants by immigration authorities – along the U.S. southern border, along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, on the Colombian side of the Darien Gap.
Nevertheless, the image of this group of Haitians (and quite possibly the children of Haitian parents born in the Dominican Republic), crowded into the back of that truck, will remain with me for a long time. Thankfully, so will the spontaneous and compassionate response of the Dominican woman who was moved to action.


Transformed by Kindness: My Immigration Experience

By Raed AbuJries

“I was a stranger and you invited me in.” These words, from Matthew 25:35, are normally perceived as a guiding principle that urges us to welcome and embrace those who are different from us. And while it will always apply as a call to kindness and compassion, this verse takes on a new depth when viewed through the lens of a personal experience.

When I immigrated to the United States at the age of 18, I quickly became familiar with the concepts of acceptance and hospitality and the transformative power they can hold. As a child, I was taught this biblical verse as a reminder of the values I should uphold as a Christian, mainly, treating others with the same care we would extend to Jesus himself. However, it wasn’t until I started my own immigration journey that the true meaning of being a stranger came into focus. Suddenly, the vulnerability of being in a new and foreign environment quickly revealed to me the significance of this verse.

Arriving in the United States, I had a simplistic and fragmented knowledge of American culture and society, based mainly on what I’ve seen in movies and on television. And while I had heard stories of racial tensions and political divides, the particulars of these issues remained vague. As I started settling into my new life, I encountered a spectrum of responses from the people I met. Some displayed wonderful kindness the moment I met them, offering an open heart that reflected the teachings of embracing strangers. Others maintained a neutral stance, neither overtly warm nor hostile. And then, there were those who greeted me with suspicion and aggression, revealing more of the complexity of human nature and the wide spectrum of attitudes held by people in America.

Every interaction was like a roll of the dice, keeping me always on my toes. Each person’s perception of me seemed to be influenced by their own experiences and biases. And for a new immigrant, those biases were not easy to predict. I was struck by those who went out of their way to make me feel at home, displaying a hospitality that went far beyond being polite. Their acts of kindness, having known nothing of my story or background, ignited a spark within me. They inspired me to strive to meet their expectations and validate their goodwill, by becoming an active and positive contributor to my new community.

These positive experiences highlighted the transformative power of acceptance and hospitality. Acts of kindness, especially extended to strangers, possess the potential to shape their lives and foster a sense of belonging. The kindness I encountered from individuals who embraced me without reservation or prejudice prompted me to channel their goodwill into personal growth and positive engagement with my new environment. Their actions taught me that an accepting community can be a catalyst for self-improvement and meaningful contributions.

On the other hand, it was inevitable to be occasionally met with hostility and suspicion, reminding me of past experiences I endured in the country I came from. Having lived under a military occupation, I was no stranger to prejudice and aggression. I was familiar with the dynamics of being treated as an outsider. Such treatment had taught me that the judgment and aggression of others often arise from ignorance or misguided fear.

But unlike the experiences of acceptance, these negative encounters did not inspire within me a desire to prove myself to those who couldn’t see beyond their biases. Instead, I became more convinced that through acts of kindness and a willingness to extend a hand, we can shape an inclusive society where differences are welcomed. I have personally seen the profound impact of “inviting people in”, not only on individuals seeking refuge in a new land but also on the communities that welcome them. Embracing strangers isn’t just about following a religious mandate—it’s about enriching lives, dismantling barriers, and creating a harmonious community where everyone’s potential can flourish. As I continue to integrate into my adopted home, I am driven to embody the spirit of acceptance that was extended to me, ensuring that others who follow in my footsteps find the same warmth and hospitality that I experienced.

Raed AbuJries is the Program Manager for Education and Communications for the AMMPARO US Network.
Born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine and immigrated to the US in 2001.

With Anti-Immigration Sentiments Rising, More Action is Needed

By David Atkinson


For those closely following immigration issues and debates, every day can seem to be a bad news day.  The diatribes by anti-immigration officials and commentators become numbing with their angry repetition.  But the ingrained perspectives of the voting public can be even more troubling.

We now enter the season when many organizations, on the far ends and in the middle of the political spectrum, are conducting polling to test 2024 themes and discover what might most motivate large blocs of voters.  Some of these surveys square with preconceived notions or confirm what we largely suspect.  Yet, there is always the prospect of a finding or two that stand out from conventional thinking or feed into our hopes for a turn for the better.

Such is not the case with this recent example, unfortunately.  A new YouGov poll, part of a study by the Center for Working-Class Politics, takes a look at how Democrats are connecting with working-class people and where the president connects or misfires.  Without doubt, this is an evaluation from the progressive side of the political landscape.

Here is the key painful finding: “The single most effective message in the poll was a vow to ‘protect the border’; decriminalization of the border was very unpopular.”  Ouch.  Reading that seems like the slap in the face from the old Skin Bracer ads, except there is nothing refreshing about it.  The accepted terminology is heavily skewed.  There is a border wall for considerable stretches of territory.  That comes with checkpoints, surveillance, and enforcement by vehicle and horseback.  To say that the border is wide open is a statement of partisan malice.  To hope for a border that is fully secure is to yearn for something that never was and never will be.  Just look how people have found ways to get through and over the former president’s big and beautiful wall.

When we look at the many ways large and small the so-called immigration system penalizes border crossers, the notion that there is something called decriminalization afoot is gross misrepresentation.  Declining to forcibly separate families is hardly the equivalent of rolling out the welcome wagon for one and all.  No ceasefire has been called on deportations.

How do advocates hope to bring about more humane immigration laws and policies when strident immigration opposition is a sure-fire applause line and vote-getter?  The efforts by advocacy groups such as ELCA, LIRS, and LAMPa to remind everyone what the Bible, especially the gospels, has to say about how to receive and treat the other lays a firm foundation.  But opponents are expert at cherry picking or distorting verses to justify their policies.  Remember how southern preachers two centuries ago were somehow able to divine biblical sanction for slavery?

It is always a herculean effort to get the attention of those who do not care about seeing beyond rhetoric or doing the difficult work of sorting fact from fiction.  And leadership that builds careers on habitually shortchanging the basic needs of citizens on subjects ranging from food security to health care to education is not going to be suddenly sympathetic to the woes of refugees, whether legal or illegal.

That is why it is so important for people of faith to support immigration advocacy, not just with hearts and minds, but with hands and wallets.  To keep abreast of issues, to document discrimination, to support a growing array of resettlement services, to connect individuals and families with vital assistance of legal, language, and living needs, to give tolerance a place in the policy marketplace, these things require a great deal of resource.  Striving to do that which is right and righteous is the charge we hear every time we read the Bible and reflect on its meaning.

Guest post from David Atkinson…..

No matter where one’s views fall on the spectrum of thoughts about immigration issues, members of our Lutheran faith family should be extraordinarily disturbed by the massive displacement of individuals and families across the globe.  Not only are countless lives tragically upended, and the health and welfare of adults, children, and babies put at extreme risk, but they face manifest danger and intense discrimination in seeking the chance for resettlement.  Granted, the world is full of troubles that seem immune to ready solutions.  Yet, we cannot dismiss these human tragedies from our hearts and minds as too distant or too complicated for our concern and compassion.

A frequent question is: What can I/we do?  A good answer is to go back to the basics – the power of prayer.  Commendably, Church World Services, an increasing presence in our region, has developed a Worship Guide for reflecting and praying for the tens of millions displaced persons.  The ELCA has taken on a role in circulating it.

The guide begins with applicable Bible verses, offers sermon starters, a variety of prayers, a litany prayer, prayer points for personal use, responsive prayer, hymn suggestions, and reflections, which involves a refugee simulation exercise.  The old saw about putting oneself in the shoes of another has not lost its relevance.  The meaning has increased in this age of bombast and belligerence.  This guide is incredibly directed and utile.  It is worth taking a look at and considering making a part of devotions.

In our Tree of Life congregation, concerns in other parts of the world are always incorporated into the prayers of the church during worship services.  As with many parts of the worship service, we can fall into the trap of hearing the familiar but not really listening.  When the significance is brought to our notice afresh, it hopefully causes us to think, and perhaps to respond.

By informing our minds and softening our hearts, prayers for refugees remove the issue of displacement from the hard world of partisan political discourse and bring it back to scriptural context.  We can view the crisis through the lens of our religious beliefs, rather than our political associations.  That plants the seeds for meaningful response, be it advocacy, volunteering, or contributing financially or materially.

The more deeply we become informed on immigration issues, the greater our appreciation for the dedicated organizations who are doing everything within the realm of possibility to welcome those who manage to find their way to America’s doorstep.  The realization sinks in that there are many ways in which we can contribute constructively and live out the precepts of faith and stewardship.  This is the often not so apparent blessing – the chance to bear witness – for which we should be grateful daily.  We often think of prayer in terms of prayer requests, but here prayer can be a motivator for caring and giving.  Will we prayerfully accept the challenge of going forth?

Reflections on Christmas at the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Emily Sollie

Lenny stands next to the bank of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. He can see the U.S. from where he stands in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, but he can’t get there. As a Venezuelan, he is not allowed to enter the country due to the controversial Title 42 policy, an emergency public-health measure enacted during the pandemic that was later expanded to include Venezuelans. A former soldier in the Venezuelan armed forces, he decided to leave his home country looking for greater opportunities. Now he squeaks by with odd jobs – unable to finish his journey to America, unable to go home, and uncertain what the future holds. A federal district court in Washington D.C. recently vacated the Title 42 order for violating U.S. law; it was scheduled to end on December 21, pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision is imminent, which could mean more delays.

A river cuts the foreground, while a line of people gathers in front of an opening in the bridge.

Photo credit: Emily Sollie

Just across the river in El Paso, Maria, from El Salvador, sits on the sofa in a respite shelter for migrants. She rubs her pregnant belly as she gazes at the Christmas tree the shelter staff and guests have decorated, an attempt at fostering holiday cheer. “May I pray for you?” asks Rev. Rose Mary Sánchez-Guzmán, pastor of Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey in El Paso. They are at 30-bed short-term shelter for migrant families. Her congregation serves migrants on the weekdays. The young woman nods, and the pastor puts a hand on her shoulder and whispers a prayer in Spanish.

I met Lenny and Maria on a visit to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez earlier this month with AMMPARO colleagues. We were there just days before a high number of asylum-seekers began crossing the Mexico-US border, many aiming to turn themselves in to border officials on the other side. This has made national headlines. Their arrival has created a humanitarian emergency within the city, as officials scramble to accommodate thousands more people than city shelters have capacity to house.

Now, back in my comfortable home in Washington D.C. and preparing for Christmas with my family, I find myself thinking of them and the thousands of others like them, for whom this season is perhaps less joyful, filled with uncertainty for the future. I think of the words Pastor Rose Mary preached, the morning before she prayed with Maria:

“We need to be guided with God’s wisdom and love so we can give hope to the world … we are His instruments here on Earth. I am thankful to God for this church – for giving hospitality to the stranger.”

The pastor’s eyes teared up as she recalled a tragedy in her own family.

“If you just focus on your own problems,” she said, “you will drown. I know. I’ve been there. But when you focus on praising God and helping others, your soul starts to heal.”

We are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to give hospitality to refugees and immigrants. We are called to see the face of God in the faces of our brothers and sisters in need.

As I prepare for the festivities with my family, I reflect on this calling and I also pray. I pray for migrants and refugees and all those seeking safety, shelter, and opportunity. I pray for Pastor Rose Mary and Cristo Rey, and all who welcome the stranger. I pray for our elected and appointed officials, who make policy decisions that affect the lives of millions.

I pray for Maria – that her child, like one born in a manger long ago and far away, will be delivered safely, will be healthy, and will have a warm place to call home.

Emily Sollie is an Interpretation Associate for the ELCA. She accompanied the ELCA AMMPARO staff on a week-long trip to U.S.-Mexico Border that included visits to multiple ELCA synods and congregations accompanying migrants, like Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey. The names of the two individuals in this reflection have been altered to protect their identity.

You can support AMMPARO, working with our companion churches and partners, to accompany migrant families and individuals by donating to the ELCA and dedicating your gift to “AMMPARO.” You can access that form here.

Response to Recent Arrivals of Migrants By Bus

“Quienes cruzan por nuestro país para llegar a un mejor lugar para vivir son seres humanos con necesidades que comen, que beben y que necesitan descansar. No permitamos que el rechazo y la xenofobia sean más visibles que los grandes actos de justicia y amor de Dios” —Moisés Pérez Espino, Estudios Bíblicos; Antiguo Testamento y Migración (page 52).

“Those who cross through our country to get to a better place to live are human beings with needs who eat, who drink and who need to rest. Let us not allow rejection and xenophobia to be more visible than God’s great acts of justice and love” —Moises Perez Espino, Biblical Studies; Old Testament and Migration (page 52).

The escalation of migrants arriving at the southern border is not new, but the evolving nature of their transportation—often without notice—to cities and communities throughout the United States is unprecedented. Migration is rooted in many familiar patterns, but it is also a symptom of the conflagration of worldwide conflicts, persecution, climate change and life-destroying violence. This recent increase in migration through the Americas has been driven by displacement in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba—but also in nations such as Haiti and Cameroon. Those who come to the border are human beings who live, breath and want, as we do, for safety and a place to rest.

We join the international and local community in condemning the dehumanizing treatment of migrants at large—those en route, at and within our border. Further, we join the international and local community in urging our elected officials to respect the dignity of human lives. This necessitates taking a holistic approach to migration while considering the migrants’ rights and the legal and human right to seek protection. We can step up to help our neighbors. We must not allow rejection and xenophobia to stand in the way of the love of God. Extending hospitality to the stranger is one of the most prudent ways that Jesus called us to extend the reach of God’s love. That’s the call to action in this moment.

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”(Matthew 25:35)

The governments of Texas, Arizona and Florida have sent roughly 13,000 migrants to cities including Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Chicago. Conversely, the outpouring of support for these migrants from local communities and faith organizations has been soul-uplifting and inspiring. Civil society organizations and local and state governments have quickly mobilized in response to the abrupt arrival of migrants on buses or flights organized by governors of other states. Essentials like immediate respite, medical attention, food, shelter and other services have been indiscriminately provided. This follows in the tradition of hospitality by border communities and other cities throughout the U.S. preceding the action of these governors.

The process for the arrival of migrants by way of these buses is morally reprehensible. On April 14, AMMPARO joined the Interfaith Immigration Coalition for a welcome rally in Washington, D.C., to call out this inhumane situation. On April 19, the Southwest Texas, the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana and the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast synods disseminated a letter calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to cease this cruel treatment and to instead work with faith partners and the federal government to provide access to fairness and humanity in the asylum system.

Today, immigration coalitions in prospective states have begun mobilizing for the possible arrival of buses to their sanctuary cities. The decision to send or not to send migrants must be done with the informed consent of the individuals, along with meaningful coordination of the receiving communities and the federal government’s deployment of resources, so that the welcome can come together in a way befitting this humanitarian situation.

But Aren’t These Migrants Taking Advantage of Our Laws?

These migrants–most are asylum seekers–are doing nothing wrong. They have surrendered to border officers to be screened and processed, with many hoping to lawfully pursue asylum claims pursuant to U.S. refugee law. Referring to this group as illegal is not correct, moreover, it is a harmful rhetoric device used to unfairly denigrate the character of all immigrants, in particular undocumented people. Regardless of manner of entry, an individual may remain legally in the U.S. for the asylum process. (See footnote).

After initial processing, the Department of Homeland Security may release migrants that do not pose a flight or safety risk from federal custody into Texas and Arizona so they can pursue their asylum claims. Many wish to pursue these claims in other cities, committing to meet ICE check-ins and court hearings and abide by U.S. laws.

Isn’t what happened in Martha’s Vineyard illegal?

Applying for asylum before immigration courts can take months or years. Allegedly, migrants on the specific flight to Martha’s Vineyard were misled about where they were being sent and also about the opportunities they could find, lured by false promises of employment, housing, educational opportunities and other assistance. This misrepresentation is dishonest and a dangerous prevarication that could have negative consequences on the migrants’ immigration proceedings. A lawsuit against the state of Florida has recently been filed in the Massachusetts District Court.

Where is AMMPARO showing up for bused migrants and communities?

From the very beginning of the busing, ELCA AMMPARO network members, congregations and partners, as well as staff, have been involved through local communication efforts, engagement and advocacy in cities where migrants have been bused. In addition, AMMPARO and Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) have been working to see how AMMPARO, ELCA World Hunger and LDR can support this emergency response work. A few grants have been provided to organizations and congregations engaged in assisting bused migrants, with priority given to housing, food and other essentials needs.

While we don’t know what the future will bring, ELCA members and congregations can take action by:

  • Supporting local efforts to meet the buses and provide housing, food, legal orientation and other essentials for migrants.*
  • Gathering with migrant community organizations and local government officials in sanctuary cities likely to be targeted for busing to assess capacity and organize an emergency plan to meet the migrants.
  • Recognizing that any congregation, no matter where it is located, can sponsor asylum-seekers. If your congregation is interested in asylum-seeker sponsorship, reach out to Mary Campbell, program director for AMMPARO, at
  • Connecting local experiences and anecdotes of welcome to federal advocacy by contacting Giovana Oaxaca, ELCA program director for migration policy, at

Edit: This post was updated to reflect the alleged nature of the events that transpired in Martha’s Vineyard, which are still under investigation. An explanation of how U.S. asylum can be sought regardless of manner of entry was also updated. Unauthorized entry is a violation of U.S. law. Asylum seekers who arrive at a U.S. port of entry or enter the United States without inspection generally must apply through the defensive or expedited asylum processes. (For more information: Asylum in the United States,  American Immigration Council) (9/30/2022)

*Update 2/09/2023: In light of recent developments, including state laws, be aware of local ordinances, state, and federal laws that may apply. You may need to consult a lawyer with expertise in your local area if you do have questions or concerns. If you have any general questions, please contact us by email.