Hospitality for Refugees
Since the fall of 2018, our church has been assisting refugees who cross the southern border to seek asylum in the United States. This humanitarian effort speaks to our Unitarian Universalist principles of the inherent worth and dignity of every person; the need for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; and the goals of democracy and of peace, liberty, and justice for all.
Who are the refugees?
These asylum seekers are mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Some are single men and some are unaccompanied children, but increasingly many are family units, a single parent accompanied by one or more children, some still in diapers. According to statistics from Customs and Border Patrol, the number of family units is growing, up 43% in 2018 in the El Paso sector, of which we are a part.
What happens to refugees seeking asylum?
People who claim asylum are held at the border while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) screens them to determine that they have a sponsor already in the US and the possibility of a legitimate claim to asylum. The screening may take only a few days or as much as several weeks. U.S. government holding areas are not set up to provide extended housing; there are no beds and food is limited. Conditions are difficult, though perhaps not so difficult as the conditions the people endured on their journey north.
Once their status has been verified, adult refugees are fitted with ankle bracelets and released to make their way to their sponsors, who may be anywhere in the country.
Who helps the refugees?
Annunciation House, an El Paso religious group serving migrant, refugee, and economically vulnerable people, works with ICE and with a network of about 20 faith-based organizations to coordinate hospitality to refugees upon their release. One of those organizations is Border Servant Corps (BSC), which assists refugee families during the week in its hospitality center at Peace Lutheran Church in Las Cruces and on the weekends in local hotels. Most weeks, BSC hosts up to 28 people; most weekends they manage hospitality for 50 to 70 people, a number that is expected to grow to as many as 250. Our church works with BSC to support its efforts.
What is hospitality in this context?
“Hospitality” is a vague term. What it entails in this context is providing a safe place to sleep, clean clothes, a place to bathe, basic toiletries, a wellness check, travel supplies, food, travel arrangements, and transportation to the bus or airport, all of this wrapped up in a lot of gentle attention and caring for people who are tired, hungry, cold, and often frightened and traumatized.
To provide this care, an army of volunteers sort donated clothes, do the laundry, set up and tear down the dormitories, cook, wash dishes, provide wellness checks, sleep on site, translate, contact sponsors, explain travel arrangements, entertain children, drive to the airport and bus station, and so forth. The work requires careful and complex organization and infinite kindness, overlaid with a significant amount of flexibility and a good sense of humor.
What is our church doing?
We provide a weekday lunch or dinner for refugees approximately three times a month. These simple meals are for about 20 to 28 people and are generously funded by our many individual volunteers, though we receive occasional donations and we have an ongoing commitment from Toucan Market (www.toucanmarket.com) to underwrite some food costs each month. In addition to preparing the food, we set up, serve the meal, and wash up, and we have time for some interaction with the refugees. Some of us speak Spanish, and some of us just smile a lot.
Beginning this April, our church will expand its efforts by providing a weekend lunch for refugees, once a month. Food costs will be paid for by donations.
We also sponsor an “Undies Sunday” on the first Sunday of the month, to gather new, in-the-package underwear for men, women, and children. The underwear collection bins are overflowing.
Additionally, some of our members support the BSC program financially and still others show up in person to sort clothing, clean bathrooms, set up and tear down bedding, and transport refugees to the bus or plane. The number of volunteers grows each month.
How can I help?
You can help by volunteering to work on various aspects of the project, such as: serving meals, assembling sack lunches, sorting clothing donations, contributing money. In order to volunteer your time and to receive emails about the Hospitality for Refugees effort, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial donations will be gratefully accepted.
- Church members and attendees: Go to your InFellowship account and chose “Your Giving” then in the “Give to” block select Hospitality for Refugees.
- If you don’t have an InFellowship account you can go here and in the “Give to” block select Hospitality for Refugees.
And you can find information about specific tangible and financial needs of the Border Servant Corps at their website, www.borderservantcorps.org.