(PNS) On Thursday, President Trump travels to the southern border of the U.S. to make his case for a $5 billion border wall to protect the country from an invasion of migrants. Mission co-worker Mark Adams has lived on the border since 1998. He believes that Christians are called to see the migrant issue very differently.
“We as the church are called to respond in faith and not fear. It’s not just the current administration, but previous administrations as well, who have led us to respond in fear about issues of migration,” said Adams. “We as the church have to say no, we are not going to respond in fear. We must remember, whether people are coming for economic reasons or family reasons or fleeing violence seeking asylum, these are people created in the image of God and we’re called to love and not to fear.”
Adams said that the Church must look at the reality of migration as primarily a human issue, not a political or ideological issue. “I think it is imperative that we always keep it focused on humans and faith and how we live out our faith amid the realities we face,” he said.
The majority of Central Americans in transit to the border as part of the caravan — or who are already at the border — are there to present for asylum, not rush the border or invade, Adams said. Most are going through legitimate ports of entry, not over walls.
“If there’s a crisis, it’s a crisis of people fleeing violence and seeking refuge in a country that has historically been a beacon for refugees from throughout the world. Right now, our country’s leadership doesn’t want to be a beacon of refuge and has decreased the number of persons we are resettling,” Adams said. “We’ve cut the number we’re going to legally resettle from 80,000 to 45,000 and next year it will be more like 30,000.
“We are closing our doors tighter and tighter. We’re saying there’s no room for folks who want to find refuge in our country. We’ve put more of our efforts and energies into that instead of being a beacon of light for folks seeking refuge.”
Although there has been a steel barrier between Agua Prieta, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona since 1997, the National Guard arrived in April 2018 to add additional security. More recently the president sent active-duty military personnel to add concertina wire (razor wire) to the existing 20-foot steel barrier and fortified it with shipping containers with a total price tag of $72 million.
Since 2007, the U.S. has spent about $9.7 billion on barrier construction along the border, according to the group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Adams, who is a staff member of Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border ministry, crosses the border regularly. Recently he was crossing with a colleague who commented to a border agent that the crossing now looked like a war zone. The border agent replied, “I know. This is ridiculous.” Another agent told Adams that there was really no defined role for National Guard troops when they first arrived, and their job had many times consisted of shuttling paper and forms between offices.
Although the president has made the border issue a hallmark of his campaign and administration, President Bill Clinton played a key role in changes to border security. With the signing of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, Clinton began a massive increase in the budget for border protection, including a mandate to double the number of border patrol agents from 5,000 in 1995 to 10,000 in 2001.
There are currently 21,000 border agents deployed along the southern border.
Although the number of people seeking asylum from Central America has grown, there has been net zero migration from Mexico the last few years. The average apprehension per agent has been under 2 persons per month over the last year. That includes people who are turning themselves in to the authorities to seek asylum — not trying to evade them.
Unlike the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by President Ronald Regan in 1986, which provided a pathway to legalization for persons who were in the United States without authorization prior to the act, the reform signed by Clinton provided no such relief.
Migration has dropped between Agua Prieta and Douglas. In the late 1990s there were an estimated 25,000 people in transit in Agua Prieta at any given time. “We as a community were challenged but the faith communities and the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) responded,” Adams said. “And we now have resources that we didn’t have back then. It was a challenge, yes, but we got through that challenge and instead of responding in fear we responded in faith.”
Although Agua Prieta is not the destination for most persons from Central America, Frontera de Cristo is supporting partners in other communities who are over capacity. Working with local partners, they are receiving vulnerable populations and accompanying them as they wait to ask for asylum at the ports of entry.
Fear of terrorism is still very much a topic in the national dialogue. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said recently on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” that 4,000 terrorists had crossed the southern border. Wallace pointed out that the State Department said there is no credible evidence of terrorists crossing the southern border.
“I asked our border patrol and they said they knew of no instance where a potential terrorist had entered,” he said. “There are people coming from ‘special interest’ countries where terrorists have been identified, but like those from Central America, they are fleeing violence and poverty.”
Adams said he hopes that instead of spending money on deterrents, some of that money can be allotted to legal processing that has been slowed down by capacity issues. Those delays have led to weeks and sometimes months of long backlogs for those seeking asylum.
Adams asks Presbyterians for prayers for the men, women and children seeking asylum; for a government system unprepared to respond to their needs; for alternative solutions; for elected leaders struggling to find common ground; and for counselors, pastors, social workers and doctors who are physically and emotionally exhausted by the pain they see. He invites individuals and congregations to support border ministries that are providing hospitality and assistance to migrants and asylum seekers.
It’s also important to learn and spread knowledge of the issues surrounding migration, he says. He recommends taking these actions: