Dear Friends and Family of La Trinidad UMC and coworkers in Christ,
One hundred years ago, violence associated with the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) drove many families to seek safety and refuge in Texas. When they arrived, they sought out communities of faith that would embrace their people, language and culture and provide important social connections and resources to help them establish new lives.
The influx of these families caused a small church in San Antonio to experience tremendous membership growth, to change its name, build a beautiful place of worship, and to become the largest Latin-American Methodist Church in the United States. That church is now known as La Trinidad UMC!
Today, one hundred years later, disorder, crime, poverty and violence in Central America have created a new wave of refugees. Honduras was recently designated as the “murder capital of the world” where gangs control 40% of the country and actively recruit and kidnap young children, pressing them into criminal activity and prostitution.
Unfortunately, our current immigration laws, political culture, and secular news media have become increasingly xenophobic, punishing both the immigrant and those who would offer aid. While the Civil Rights era successfully dismantled the racist regime of laws known as Jim Crow, many of its principles and objectives were simply rewritten into the zero-tolerance immigration and criminal justice systems, depriving our most vulnerable neighbors of the status they need to be afforded basic rights and opportunities that we take for granted.
Over the last 16 years, around 4 million people have been deported in a crackdown far surpassing the impact of the the infamous “Operation Wetback” that took place in the 1950′s under President Eisenhower. Like “Operation Wetback” the current crackdown disproportionately targets Latin-American immigrants and their families often separating U.S. born children from a foreign-born father, mother, or both for the remaining duration of their childhood.
Today, highly profitable Wall-Street traded corporations lobby our politicians for harsher immigration measures while also receiving lucrative Federal contracts run private prisons, their “guards” being mere employees who lack the appropriate training in law enforcement.
These “detention centers,” whose deplorable conditions were featured on the PBS Frontline special “Lost in Detention” are currently saturated with detained immigrants and their families. As a result, many new arrivals are simply being processed and released, many at bus stations in Laredo and McAllen.
If the refugee is an unaccompanied minor, however, he or she is held for 72 hours in immigration detention, then placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (Office of Refugee Resettlement). The Federal Government then attempts to reconnect the child with family members here in the U.S. or in their country of origin (in order to deport the child).
Over 40,000 unaccompanied minors ranging in age from 5-17 are currently in Federal custody. These children, some mere toddlers, are being held in large concentration camps in the Rio Grande Valley, Arizona, San Antonio, and Oklahoma among other places, without access to lawyers, media scrutiny, or help from religious and charitable organizations outside the official “contractors.” One of these camps is being operated at Lackland AFB with over 1000 children youth currently living in military dorms. Many other children are being bussed around the US to other camps, such as the large camp in Nogales, AZ.
Tomorrow, I will participate in a conference call with area religious leaders regarding the status of the unaccompanied children. I am making every effort to find out what options exist for the loving, Christian people of our churches to respond to the needs of these children, and what possibilities exist for the children to have free and full lives.
In Laredo, where refugee families are being released at the bus station, the United Methodist Holding Institute has begun providing transitional services.
Holding Institute needs the following items in order to continue this ministry:
HYGIENE ITEMS (travel size containers)
UNDERWEAR (packaged children’s sizes)
TOTE BAGS (grocery size)
DRAW STRING BAGS
NEW: NEEDING THESE ITEMS AS WELL
SHOELACES FOR CHILDREN’S TENNIS SHOES
CHILDREN’S SIZE BELTS
TOWELS (for use at Holding Institute shower facility)
If you desire to support the effort at Holding, please bring these items to the gym on Sunday. Raquel and I will take them to Laredo on Monday to Holding Institute. You may also make a financial designated contribution to this cause.
Please remember these families and children in your daily prayers as we seek to faithfully respond to those who are so close to the heart of Christ.
Thank you and God bless.
Rev. John P. Feagins
Post Script: Later today, I received this response from BCFS:
Hello Rev. John P. Feagins,
Thank you for contacting BCFS Health and Human Services via our website to inquire about assisting our ongoing operations with immigrant children.
We greatly appreciate the interest of your congregation, however our contract with the federal government doesn’t allow for the use of volunteers with this operation. Department of Homeland Security just released some information about donations on their website that includes links to state programs that may be accepting donations or volunteers: http://www.dhs.gov/information-donations
Thank you very much for reaching out to us. Have a blessed day.