Article

What Baptists in New Mexico are doing to help immigrants

Apr 19, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE (BNM) - At the request of municipal and federal agencies, faith-based organizations in Albuquerque are helping to house and feed approximately 430 asylum-seeking migrants from South and Central America. 

Over the past several weeks, hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants have entered the United States along the El Paso sector of the country’s border with Mexico. In addition to El Paso, the sector includes New Mexico’s entire southern border. The Albuquerque Journal reported March 22, that “most [migrants] crossed illegally.” 

During a March 27 press conference, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan claimed “The increase in family units is a direct response to the vulnerabilities in our legal framework where migrants and smugglers know they will be released and allowed to stay in the U.S. indefinitely pending immigration proceedings that could be many years out.” As of March 27, CBP had more than 12,000 migrants in custody.

CBP closed all five of New Mexico’s highway checkpoints March 27, in an effort to redirect agency personnel to the border.

In an attempt to curb the number of people crossing the border, the Trump Administration has ordered those seeking asylum to be sent to Mexico once they are processed in the United States, as they await U.S. immigration proceedings.

Even so, according to Roger Ebner, director of the City of Albuquerque’s Emergency Management Office, Albuquerque is currently hosting 430 asylum-seeking migrants who entered the United States through the El Paso sector. According to Scott Wilson, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Missions Mobilization Team leader, these migrants “are vetted, have ankle monitors, and sponsors somewhere in the U.S.”

Because of the large number of people crossing the border in El Paso, Annunciation House, a Catholic ministry that serves migrant and homeless communities in the border city, quickly reached capacity. As a result, many migrants have been transported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Albuquerque, where city leaders are working with several nonprofit organizations - including New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief - to meet the day-to-day needs of those migrants.

During a March 14 meeting organized by Ebner, representatives from University of New Mexico Hospital, the Albuquerque mayor’s office, NMBDR, Catholic Charities, Congregation Albert and other non-profit organizations, met to discuss the situation and organize a response. 

Ed Greene, NMBDR’s associate director, attended the meeting. The purpose of the meeting, he said, was to provide support to groups and agencies that had agreed to assist migrants and to develop an organizational structure. The organizations agreed to work together to provide migrants with medical care, temporary housing, food, clothing, and transportation.

Ira Shelton, director of NMBDR, told the Baptist New Mexican, “This is a different kind of response for us.” Citing Matthew 25:31-46, Shelton concluded, “That says to me, we need to be helping these people. They’re hungry and they’re confused. If we can bring hope, help, and healing, then that’s what we need to do.” Shelton said that at least one disaster relief volunteer declined to participate, citing political differences.

Between March 14 and 19, 12 NMBDR volunteers, including Greene and Shelton, prepared hot meals and non-perishable lunches for several of the migrants who are staying in Albuquerque area motels as they await further processing. According to Cricket Pairett, ministry assistant for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Missions Mobilization Team, NMBDR volunteers prepared 100 nonperishable sack lunches to be handed out to migrants who were traveling from Albuquerque to other parts of the United States, where they have immigration sponsors. Pairett said it was critical that the food in the sack lunches be able to withstand several days of travel and different temperatures. As of March 26, the team had prepared approximately 320 meals and logged 193 volunteer hours, according to Pairett.

Sandia Baptist Church, Albuquerque, which has a commercial grade kitchen, allowed NMBDR to use its space to prepare meals during the six-day period. Garland Peek, Sandia’s minister to adults, helped to coordinate the operation on behalf of the church.

Pairett and Wilson are working with three additional BCNM churches that have expressed in providing meals and other resources. In response, Joseph Bunce, BCNM’s executive director, has said churches can supply volunteers to help as cooks and servers, so long as they adhere to NMBDR’s strict food preparation guidelines.

It is unclear how long the migrants will be in Albuquerque or whether more will arrive in the coming weeks, though according to Ebner, “There may be an ebb and flow to this, so I think this will continue into the future. But I believe there will be a decrease at some point.” Ebner continued, “We need to be as ready as possible and then be as flexible as possible.”

According to Ebner, the City of Albuquerque has not paid for any of the costs associated with the humanitarian response. 

Ebner commended the faith-based groups and volunteer medical personnel for meeting the needs of the migrants. He said of NMBDR, “The Baptists have done a tremendous work here, every organization appreciates the work they have done.”

April 8, 2019 Update: On April 7, President Trump named Kevin K. McAleenan Acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security.