“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 of 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 through 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 campbell@elca.org.
  • Connecting local experiences and anecdotes of welcome to federal advocacy by contacting Giovana Oaxaca, ELCA program director for migration policy, at oaxaca@elca.org.

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)