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Seeking Justice at the U.S. Southern Border: The Need for Both Relief and Reform

Part 3 in the Seeing Beyond the Immigration Rhetoric series

The following is a transcribed video interview between the Office of Social Justice (OSJ) and church partners at the U.S. southern border. OSJ’s Melissa Stek met them last month on a delegation trip to El Paso, Texas. These church partners have been providing relief to asylum-seekers arriving to Ciudad Juarez.

Melissa: I’m on a call here with Pastor Manuel Padilla, pastor of Las Tierras Community Church in El Paso, Texas, and Pastor Samuel Lopez, pastor of Frontera de Gracia church in Ciudad Juarez.

Thank you so much to the two of you for being willing to get on this call to talk about what’s happening at the border and what your churches have been doing. Pastor Samuel, could you tell us what your church has been doing for asylum-seekers in Ciudad Juarez and why you’re doing it?

Pastor Samuel: My church and I are working with immigrants just for one reason: love. I don’t have a lot of reasons other than that it’s for love, because Jesus said, “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” That’s the reason.

I was a stranger, and you welcomed me

Melissa: So you’ve had asylum-seekers arriving in Ciudad Juarez, staying in the homes of your church members and in different places that you’ve been able to rent out temporarily. How many migrants are arriving each day to Ciudad Juarez these days?

Pastor Samuel: In three days, 700 hundred people arrived to just one of the migrant processing centers in Ciudad Juarez. In the following three days, around 1,100 people arrived there.

Ciudad Juarez doesn’t know what to do with so many people. I’ve been told again and again by the state government, “Samuel, we can’t help you with this…” So we are facing a great social problem in Juarez that’s getting more difficult every day.

We are facing a great social problem

Melissa: I believe it. Manuel, I’d love to hear how and why your church on the El Paso side of the border has partnered with Frontera de Gracia in these efforts of looking out for asylum-seekers.

Pastor Manuel: A lot of it has to do with our vision as a church… [we have a] conviction that the Gospel comes and it does its transforming work within us personally but it’s not supposed to stop there. It’s supposed to go out to our neighbors and our city… But the overarching idea is that of the kingdom of God... the rule of King Jesus you want to see made visible in our society.

[Samuel and I] have a similar vision for our churches... [so with this situation] we’ve just jumped in and said, “Ok, of course! This fits.” My church is receiving money from other churches in the U.S. and we pass it on to Frontera de Gracia.

Melissa: That’s great! I’d like to tie in how the OSJ fits in with what you’re doing. We’ve been encouraging churches to support your ministry, but also to advocate on policies that are hurting the asylum-seekers you serve.

In thinking about biblical justice, we've heard about giving a person a fish versus teaching a person to fish. We as the Christian Reformed Church support both these forms of seeking justice, but also addressing the systems that deny certain people access to the fishing pond, which can look like policy advocacy and speaking truth to power. Why is this type of "seeking justice" important, and why should Christians be engaged in it?

Pastor Manuel: I can’t help but think of it as tied to a robust theology of sin… If we think of sin simply in terms of individuals, that’s a very shallow view of how sin has affected our world. Individuals comprise entities, organizations… so you see the effect of sin throughout society, and in policies, our judicial system.

That’s a very shallow view of how sin has affected our world

If that’s the widespread nature of sin, then the way that the Gospel has to respond to it has to be not just individually, but also systemically… You have to talk about relief and transformation, but then you also have to talk about reform - speaking to impact social conditions and policies… that’s the big picture.

Pastor Samuel: Yesterday in a meeting, there was a government representative that’s been speaking with U.S. officials about the low numbers of asylum-seekers being processed at the border each day, and if they could try to expedite the limited daily number-calling (metering) of migrants for processing. Because sometimes they’ll only call ten or five people in a day….we need them to facilitate better and faster processing.

It’s been so slow….It’s created a chaos in Juarez….We need a solution to deal with the great number of people that are here.

Melissa: So you’re seeing the direct impacts of policy and practice changes. This slowdown in processing rates and the start of “metering” are creating a bottleneck effect.

We’re also seeing the effects of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which our churches have done some advocacy on. Our partners at Church World Service recently reported that nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico under this policy as of the end of April. You’re seeing that firsthand, Samuel.

Pastor Samuel: Yes. We are definitely facing a humanitarian crisis here… Supporting the foreigner looks like improving U.S. policies, not just for the Cuban asylum-seekers [that have been with us and our church], but for all the foreigners among us.   

Melissa: Absolutely. We will keep praying, supporting you in your ministry, and doing advocacy on policies that are having very immediate and harmful impacts on those you serve.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today and for the kingdom-building work you are doing at the border.


If you’d like to financially support Pastors Manuel and Samuel’s ministry, please use Third Reformed Church's donations page. 

Please also engage in policy advocacy on this issue by signing up for OSJ action alerts here.

Photo by Kyler Nixon on Unsplash


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