Episcopal Relief & Development is assisting St. John's Episcopal Church in McAllen, Texas, as the congregation provides relief to hundreds of Central American migrants who crossed through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. A sudden influx of people, including thousands of unaccompanied minors, has overwhelmed Border Patrol and created a humanitarian crisis in towns along the US-Mexico border -- including McAllen, which sits directly opposite the town of Reynosa, Mexico, about 70 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.
Central American migrants who surrender to Border Patrol and request asylum upon entering the US are entitled to a hearing, but because of the high volume of requests, hearing dates may be up to two years away. Unaccompanied minors cannot be released on their own, so they are being transferred to detention centers and emergency shelters to await placement in foster homes or other custodial situations. Adults or families with relatives in the US can receive bus tickets to go and join them, but the capacity of the bus lines is limited, and volunteers in McAllen report that wait times for seats can be up to two days.
St. John's Episcopal Church, part of the McAllen Faith Community for Disaster Recovery -- a group of churches and government agencies that have come together to respond to the crisis -- is assisting with meals and laundry for individuals and families sheltering inside and in tents around the town's Sacred Heart Catholic Church. St. John's is also providing approximately 100 nutrition and hygiene packs per day to accompany those traveling via bus to stay with their US-based relatives.
"These people have traveled long distances with little to eat and have nothing when they arrive and surrender," wrote the Rev. Nancy Springer, Assistant Rector at St. John's. "Local churches in McAllen are working to provide them with a hot meal, a shower, and a place to rest."
Regarding St. John's involvement, Springer added, "We have a large parish that can accommodate teams putting together hygiene and nutrition packs... Lots of parishioners [are] willing to volunteer to build the packs, prepare and serve meals, and take linens to launder." An estimated 200 people per day arrive in McAllen alone. The New York Times reports: "Since October, the Border Patrol has apprehended more than 160,000 undocumented immigrants in its Rio Grande Valley sector and more than 33,500 unaccompanied minors in Texas."
Misinformation about US laws governing amnesty and asylum has contributed to the crisis. Some migrant families have reportedly told authorities they came because DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) would allow them to stay, but this law only defers deportation for children brought to the United States before June 15, 2012. In addition to requesting an anticipated $2 billion in funds from Congress to deal with the crisis, the Obama administration has stated they are working with Central American partners to promote accurate information about laws and processes pertaining to crossing the US border. Episcopal Migration Ministries and Episcopal Relief & Development will be hosting a coordination call next week for border dioceses to share what needs they are seeing and what the Church is doing in each diocese.
"We know that a great hunger and capacity for this kind of work already exists in the Church and has been active for decades," said Katie Mears, Director of Episcopal Relief & Development's US Disaster Program. "We look forward to hearing from these impacted dioceses about the needs and responses they are seeing, and we will continue to keep all those impacted – both those arriving on our borders and those caring for them – in our prayers." To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to respond to the current crisis in McAllen and other natural and human-caused disasters in the United States, please donate to the US Disaster Fund at er-d.org