By / Mar 20

We, who are pro-life, are those that value and seek to protect life at all stages, from conception (womb) to natural death (tomb). And as culture has taken particular aim at the womb and the tomb—preborn children and those nearing life’s end—pro-life efforts have risen to the occasion, advocating tirelessly for these vulnerable populations. In many cases, those efforts have been rewarded with growing support and stronger legislation in recognition of the dignity and rights that these persons, who are made in the image of God, possess. 

But if we’re not careful, this needed emphasis has the potential to avert our eyes entirely from other life and human dignity issues right in front of us, issues like sex trafficking, racial injustice, or the latest example, highlighted in February by Hannah Dreier of The New York Times, the exploitation of children who’ve migrated to the United States. This is an issue from which we can’t look away. 

A bigger problem than we may think

In her investigation, Dreier traveled to seven states, from Alabama to Michigan and Florida to South Dakota, and spoke to more than 100 migrant child workers in 20 states. What she discovered was a problem larger than we may imagine, growing larger by the day. 

“The number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States (by definition, these are not children who have “snuck” into the country undetected, as some may suspect) climbed to a high of 130,000 last year — three times what it was five years earlier,” Dreier writes.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is “responsible for ensuring sponsors will support [unaccompanied minors] and protect them from trafficking or exploitation,” is being forced to rush through the process of vetting child sponsors in order to move these children quickly out of shelters and release them into the care of adults. While well-intended, HHS caseworkers can’t possibly keep up with the overwhelming demand. And often, these children who’ve entered the country alone, at the risk of their lives, are subjected to gross injustice and exploitation. 

Child exploitation findings and statistics

Dreier’s findings are heart-wrenching. “Indentured servitude,” is what Rick Angstman, a teacher that Dreier interviewed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called it. Alone and undoubtedly afraid, children are regularly pressured by their sponsors—distant relatives or complete strangers—and their circumstances to seek employment to provide income for themselves and their families back home in their country of origin. 

When asked about the prevalence of the problem, Doug Gilmer, who is head of the Birmingham, Alabama, office of Homeland Security investigations, said, “We’re encountering it here because we’re looking for it here. It’s happening everywhere.” Here are some of the findings that Dreier’s investigation uncovered:

  • The investigation named several major brands and retailers where migrant child workers are employed, including Ford, General Motors, J. Crew, Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Fruit of the Loom, Ben & Jerry’s, and Hearthside Food Solutions, among others. 
  • In this investigation alone, it was found that children as young as 12 years old were regularly working shifts in excess of 12 hours in length. 
  • Often, children are either prevented from attending school by their sponsors or physically unable to do so due to the long overnight hours they work. 
  • According to H.H.S. case workers, about two-thirds of all unaccompanied migrant children who enter the country end up working full time. 
  • Migrant child workers regularly incur serious injuries like amputations, and sometimes die, due to occupational hazards, though their deaths are no longer publicly reported as of 2017. 

As we can see from the brief list above, child exploitation is not confined to one industry, one part of the country, or one major brand or retailer. It is a problem large in scope and complex in nature. The question before us is: what can we do about it?

What can we do?

The complexity of the problems outlined in Dreier’s reporting is overwhelming. In brief, the unaccompanied children entering the United States are leaving dire and sometimes dangerous circumstances at home, entering a country overwhelmed at its southern border, and, too often, are being placed with sponsors who view them through exploitative lenses. What can we do? Where should we start? The problem feels too big.

As Christians, we wholly oppose the exploitation of anyone, much less children. And as pro-life Christians, we are committed to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every person, at every stage, and in every condition—born or preborn, male or female, native or immigrant. So, we can at least do what we’ve always done: pray, advocate, and live generously. 

Pray: As I’ve said, the problems revealed by this investigation are complicated. And they’re not new. The exploitation of migrant child workers has been occurring for decades, if not centuries. When assessing the problem, we may feel a bit like Jesus’ disciples after they’d failed to free a young boy from the spirit that was tormenting him (Mark 9:14-29).

“Why could we not cast it out?”, they asked Jesus later (v. 28). Maybe we’re asking him a similar question: “Why can’t we solve this problem?” His answer to his disciples then, I suspect, applies to this problem now. “This kind cannot be driven out”—this problem cannot be solved—”by anything but prayer” (v. 29). The problem before us will not be solved unless the people of God pray.

Advocate: Prayer is where we begin, and it’s something we are to do epeatedly. But it’s not all we’re called to do. One of the privileges of living in this country is that we have the opportunity to pair our prayers with political action.

Christians in America have a long track record of exercising our rights on behalf of others, from the Civil Rights movement to the preborn to immigration issues related to this one. And this issue is deserving of all our political energies, whether it be writing letters to our elected representatives, organizing marches, or simply reading and sharing articles like this one. However we choose to engage, Steven Garber’s haunting question hovers before us all: “Knowing what you know, what will you do?” 

Live generously: So much of the plight these children face has financial roots. They leave their homes and families seeking relief from the severe financial constraints they face in their native countries. On the brink of starvation and homelessness, parents are sending their children alone to cross our border and find work. Can you imagine?

So, for the children in our communities who have left their country, their home, and their family, in what ways can we be generous toward them with our time, our attention, and, yes, our finances? As beneficiaries of God’s generosity, here’s an opportunity for us to show generosity to others who desperately need it.

The pro-life community is not shy in voicing our commitment to life the moment of conception to the time of natural death. We have worked for centuries on behalf of preborn children in the womb. We’ve, likewise, expended great effort on behalf of those nearing death. Today, an additional task is before us. What will we do to make sure these children are treated with dignity? They’re our neighbors; our faith demands that we seek their good. Knowing what we know, what will we do?

By / May 18

With more than 26 million refugees and over 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, how Christians and churches see migrants and refugees is vitally important. What we believe about God’s mission to seek, save, and reconcile the world to himself through Jesus is revealed, in part, by how we see migrants and refugees when it comes to ministry, care, and concern for them as people made in God’s image and loved by him. For American Christians, the global refugee crisis and presence of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers at our southern border provides us an opportunity to transcend political and cultural controversies in order to minister and love in the name of Jesus.

In Leviticus 19:33-34, God says to Israel, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” This same ethic was reflected by Jesus in his Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This was a specific command for the covenant people of God in ancient Israel, and while modern nation-states have unique responsibilities related to borders and security, the church embodying the character and mission of God has corresponding responsibilities and opportunities when it comes to ministry, mercy, compassion, and justice for the sojourner.

Personalizing our country’s border crisis

Back in 2018 when migrant children, families, and individuals traveling to our southern border were in the news, I remember the concern expressed by many. It can feel overwhelming and scary when we see news reports of large numbers of people coming to our borders to ask for entry. I had worked with immigrant and refugee ministry and advocacy for a few years, but the more cable news I watched and the more images I saw, the more concern I had about what was happening with these new people coming—and the more concern I heard from my neighbors, friends, and other Christians.

What I didn’t yet understand is that a large portion of the people I saw in the news at that time were not trying to come illegally. Many were coming here to claim asylum, which involves a legal process of presenting oneself on United States soil to ask for protection from violence and persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The right to claim asylum is established in U.S. Code and is longstanding federal law. Once the request has been made and credible fear has been established by border patrol officers trained in this regard, the asylum seeker is to have their case heard before a court that will judge whether or not the petitioner is granted asylum and allowed to stay. 

But, there was something more important at work for me personally than how our country manages its borders, as vital as that is. As I prayed about all of this, I realized that for me as a Christian and as a private citizen who is not a state agent or Border Patrol officer, I should think first about migrants and asylum seekers as people, as those God desires to come to him, and about opportunities to partner with Christians at the border in ministry. I believe that order at the border is an important part of caring for migrants, as well as providing security for a nation’s citizenry, but, while our government has clear responsibilities in maintaining order and security at our border, which we should support and encourage, the church also has a role in ministering to people in the midst of crisis. Border security and order provided by the government is not mutually exclusive to the church engaging in gospel and compassion ministry to those who come to us seeking refuge. 

Remembering how Jesus responded to the crowds who were harassed and helpless, how he was moved with compassion for them, and how he instructed his disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers into the harvest field (Matt. 9:35-38) will help frame our views of those who come to our borders seeking help. While some rejected the desperate crowds, Jesus saw people he could minister to and love. We can do the same.

Ministry on both sides of the border

I made my first trip to the border at Nogales, Arizona, in late summer 2018 and then to Tijuana in December of that year to visit ministries that were serving migrants from all over the world. I went to El Paso in 2019. Then, as I moved out to California to pastor a church that year, I went back to Tijuana to view what was happening with churches doing ministry there. I began to see the border as a place where people from many nations gathered and where churches on both sides worked behind the scenes to care for those in need, to pray, and to share the love and gospel of Jesus while people waited for legal entry. 

I learned that many of the people who come to the border are already evangelical Christians or come to faith in Christ as they encounter churches who are opening their sanctuaries, homes, and lives to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers (See World Magazine reporting from Sophia Lee in 2019 explaining border ministry in the Las Cruces-El Paso area). Instead of seeing the border primarily as a place of fear and chaos, I began to also see it as a place where human need and desperation meets the ministry of the church as it holds out the life and hope of Jesus in the midst of a raging storm. God is at work in and through his people in the borderlands. 

In work led by Juvenal Gonzalez working with the San Diego Baptist Association and Mexican Baptist churches, I have seen people from many nations receive food, shelter, love, and the gospel at the El Chaparral Gate in Tijuana while they live in tents and wait. I joined with Ed Litton, current SBC president, and other SBC leaders in August 2021 to connect again with this ministry and to provide care, hope, and breakfast to hundreds of migrants who were there waiting for a chance for their asylum claim to be heard. Recently, Gonzalez and the churches on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border fed and ministered to hundreds of Ukrainian refugees a day who traveled to Tijuana to wait and petition for protection in the U.S. California Baptist Disaster Relief, Send Relief, and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) stepped in and provided assistance as well. 

In October of 2021, I visited the El Paso Migrant Ministry Center at Scotsdale Baptist Church that works in partnership with the El Paso (TX) Baptist Association. I saw a church that transformed their facility to make room for migrants that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol brought to them for care. The ministry center now works with NAMB to receive teams and volunteers from around the country to minister to the dozens of migrants who are brought to them each day. 

I have visited churches and seen ministries in border towns that altered their ministries to make room to provide places for people to stay while they transition to other parts of the country. While I’ve never visited Brownsville, Texas, I’ve heard about the ministry of West Brownsville Baptist Church and others who have cared for and seen many come to Christ through the work of receiving migrants. Just last fall, I heard from Mexican border officials in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, tell us that the churches on the Mexico side were making all the difference in providing care and ministry during the migrant surges. When the Mexican government doesn’t know what to do with the people who come to them, they turn to the churches for physical and spiritual help and resources. The U.S. government often does the same thing.

Christians along the U.S.-Mexico border are acting in the name of Jesus to bring hope and order out of chaos, pain, displacement, rejection, and desperate need. When I ask pastors on both sides of the border why they engage in this ministry of welcome, they are always confused by the question. They’ve told me that they do this because this is what Jesus does and it is who he is. They see no other way to follow him in their context than to welcome and minister to the stranger who comes to them.

This kind of ministry doesn’t just happen along the border. It is happening everywhere, from South Carolina to California. Recently, I spoke with an Afghan man in Northern California who told me that many of the Afghan refugees he’s met know they are being received and treated well in America because of the influence of Christians and churches who follow the Bible and are welcoming and loving from the heart. This man was not a Christian, and he came from a Muslim background, but he said it was clear that the teachings of Jesus had an influence on how Christians welcomed his fellow countrymen. He recounted stories of pastors bringing Afghan refugees to his store to buy supplies for them with their own money. This left an impression on him as he recognized that their faith led them to act in kindness toward others. He let us pray with him at the end of our conversation.

More migrants coming?

We will continue to have opportunities to welcome and minister to immigrants and refugees in the name of Jesus, either at the border or in towns across our country. The COVID-19 pandemic public health order called Title 42, which allowed the U.S. government to suspend asylum law and expel migrants without hearing their claims in court, is set to expire in late May. With this potential change in policy and the possible full renewal of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP or Remain in Mexico), expectations are rising that there will be a significant increase in the number of migrants coming to our southern border seeking asylum and refuge. 

While concern grows over this development, churches on both sides of the border will continue to represent Christ and minister to people in need who come to them. In addition, churches all over the country have the opportunity to join with these border churches and ministries to support their ongoing front-line work in ministering to the sojourner. While our government and Border Patrol have a job to do in keeping order and security as they manage the border, battle cartels and human and drug smuggling, and enforce our laws, the church also has a role in helping those in deep need who enter our country. And, with the arrival of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees over the past several months, along with others from around the world, the opportunities to receive and minister to the nations that have come to us are potentially greater than ever before. To learn more about this, you can watch the recent webinar hosted by the ERLC.

As the world continues to experience wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, corruption, and persecution, Christians in America have an opportunity to welcome refugees fleeing violence and support fellow believers engaging in ministry along both sides of our own southern border. Our first response to migrants and refugees should not be fear or rejection. Instead, we should prayerfully ask God what he might be doing through these circumstances and how we can join him to tell a better story by bearing the burdens of others and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

By / May 16

The Biden administration recently announced that they plan to terminate Title 42, a pandemic-era rule that closed the United States’ borders to asylum seekers and others who migrate, on May 23. Title 42 has been in place since March 20, 2020, and has been used extensively to immediately expel migrants once apprehended without allowing them to assert their legal right to request asylum. After the administration’s announcement of rescinding Title 42, bipartisan concerns were raised about its termination, and whether the U.S. government was prepared for the anticipated influx of migrants at the border.

In 2021, roughly 2 million individuals were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Because most individuals were apprehended, often through voluntarily presenting themselves to border agents to seek asylum, then immediately expelled, many migrants attempted to cross multiple times. It is estimated that around 27% of these encounters were from repeat crossers. Of the 2 million apprehensions, about 1.1 million individuals were immediately expelled, with only some family units and unaccompanied children allowed to enter to pursue asylum claims. 

It remains unclear whether the Biden administration will pause its anticipated withdrawal of Title 42 to prepare for the potentially significant spike in attempted crossings and asylum requests this summer. Additionally, while many of these individuals have been and will continue to come from Central America, there have also been reports of growing numbers of migrants arriving to the border from Haiti, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, India, and even Ukraine.

Though each migrant’s journey to the U.S. looks different, many face some of the same tragedies and hardships on their journey. Horrific violence, extortion from cartels, emotional trauma, rape and sexual assault, and lack of basic necessities are commonplace for migrants on their journey to the U.S., especially for women and children. As we once again see headlines around immigration in the news, it is essential for us to stop and consider why so many still choose to come, given the difficulty of the journey and the uncertain futures that migrants face upon reaching the U.S.

The factors that cause each migrant to make the difficult decision to leave home vary for each individual situation and country. However, there are some consistent, widespread issues that are often cited as the root causes of migration: corruption, violence, and poverty. 

Corruption

Perhaps the most widespread root cause of migration is corruption. Corruption is especially damaging because where it persists, other evils can thrive. Where corruption is allowed to fester, it can easily spread to many institutions in a country and region: police, government, the judicial system, businesses, and even, in some instances, religious institutions. Once people have completely lost trust in their institutions, individuals are often relegated to despair and hopelessness. Many begin to believe that their situations cannot improve or that they will be unable to receive redress for injustices committed against them. While corrupt governments exist all over the world, they are currently particularly prevalent in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and Caribbean nations. Government leaders rake in huge sums of money while refusing to hold free and fair elections and failing to invest resources in the basic services that their citizens need to survive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters throughout the world, especially in Central America, have exacerbated and highlighted these issues to the watching world. The inefficiency and corruption of these governments have prevented vulnerable people from receiving the necessary recovery aid, adequate testing and PPE to fight the pandemic, and have severely hampered the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, leading to prolonged and heightened suffering at the hands of this disease and these natural disasters.

Violence

It is in these environments of corruption that violence is especially able to thrive. Cartels and gangs are enabled to act without fear of punishment and are able to easily bribe and infiltrate the institutions that should protect the vulnerable. These dynamics are particularly hurtful to women and children, who face increasing levels of violence, including femicide and sexual violence. Impunity for these crimes is typical, with conviction for violence against women under 3% in Central America. With no threat of meaningful retribution, gangs and cartels are allowed to terrorize the vulnerable.

In addition to these trends in Central America, many are being forcibly displaced due to violence all around the world. Following the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan this summer, thousands were forced to flee. As Russia has now waged war in Ukraine, it is estimated that as many as 10 million individuals might be displaced, with over 4 million already leaving the country, creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. 

Violence is also often a factor for those who face persecution because of their religion or ethnicity. Open Doors’ recent World Watch List, which analyzes where it is most difficult to be a Christian, highlights countries where believers are being forced to flee for their Chritian faith. While many of these people seek protection through the refugee resettlement program, its severe backlogs and lengthy processing time force some to attempt to travel to the southern border to seek asylum.

Poverty 

A third factor that often spurs emigration is poverty. As individuals struggle to meet their basic needs, face no economic opportunity, and receive little assistance and aid from their governments, many are forced to make the difficult decision to migrate. Parents who see no opportunity for their children or are unable to provide for their needs have to reckon with these harsh realities. Nearly 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, attempting to survive on less than $2 per day, with children accounting for two-thirds of the world’s most poor, and for those older than 15, about 70% have no schooling or only basic education.

Oftentimes, poverty is directly linked to these other factors of violence and corruption. According to World Vision, “Although countries impacted by fragility, crises, and violence are home to about 10% of the world’s population, they account for more than 40% of people living in extreme poverty. By 2030, an estimated 67% of the world’s poor will live in fragile contexts.” 

Why does it matter?

Understanding why people migrate is essential to addressing our broken immigration system wisely. While there are sharp disagreements on how exactly our system should be fixed, few would argue that it currently works effectively. Addressing the root causes of migration must be an integral part of our national strategy to reform our immigration system. 

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in urging both Congress and the administration to prioritize addressing these issues through equipping local Nongovernmental Organizations and civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations and churches, to meet the needs of their communities and fight against these forces of violence, corruption, and poverty. One piece of legislation that works to do this in the Northern Triangle is the Central American Women and Children Protection Act. The ERLC is actively advocating for the swift passage of this bill which would allow the vulnerable, particularly women and girls, to find safety in their communities without having to face the dangerous journey to the U.S.

Secondly and primarily, for us as Christians, understanding why people migrate helps us to see the dignity of these migrants, to better understand their pain, and to respond with empathy and compassion, rather than with partisanship or suspicion. It is much easier to see migrants as something to be feared or hated when we don’t first stop to consider their individual stories and the forces that brought them to our borders. As migrants arrive to the U.S., churches have an opportunity to reach the nations without leaving our neighborhoods. Migrants have experienced tremendous difficulty, and it is imperative that the Church respond with compassion and rise up to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the most vulnerable among us—in the same way that Jesus has cared for us. 

By / Mar 26

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss shootings in Colorado, the migrant crisis at the border, the increased distribution of vaccines for all adults, new sanctions on China, Utah’s anti-porn proposal, and Prince Harry’s new job. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Cody Barnhart with “Three potential long-term effects of pornography addiction,” Catherine Parks with “The abortion pill is the next frontier in the abortion debate,” and Andrew Bertodatti with “What should we pay attention to in the news?: An interview with Jeffery Bilbro about Reading the Times.

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. America mourns again
  2. Biden puts Harris in charge of border crisis
  3. Every Tennessean 16+ will be eligible for vaccination ‘no later than April 5’
  4. Krispy Kreme will offer free doughnuts—all year long—to people with COVID-19 vaccination cards
  5. Sanctions on China
  6. Utah anti-porn proposal
  7. Prince Harry announces new job at tech startup in post-royal life

Lunchroom

Lindsay: Pray for the Thackers; watching West Wing

Josh: 

Brent: Spring Training: CoolToday Park

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By / Mar 24

We want to help you think well about immigration, especially as the surge in unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border leads to greater public debate of these issues. Jeff Pickering, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Travis Wussow welcome Jonathan Hayes, a former federal official, to the roundtable to explain how our government shelters unaccompanied migrant children. Hayes served as Director of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied migrant children.

“Yet again, the situation at the southern border ought to remind us that unaccompanied migrant children are not a mere problem to be solved. They bear the image of God, and are endowed by him with dignity and worth. Jesus loves them, and so should we. These kinds of problems will persist at our border for as long as our immigration system is allowed to languish in incoherence. A better path forward will require government leaders — both in Congress and the administration — coming together in an honest search for solutions based on long-term strategies. In the meantime, we should do everything we can do, through both Christian ministry and government policy, to help alleviate the suffering of those who are attempting to flee violence in their home countries.” – Russell Moore on March 18, 2021

Guest Biography

Jonathan Hayes served as the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Administration for Children & Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services until March 2020 when he transitioned to the office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response until January 2021. Prior to joining HHS, Jonathan served as chief of staff to two members of Congress spanning over eight years. Additionally, he has experience in the private sector working in broadcast television, sales and marketing, business development, international trade and customs and commercial airline operations. Jonathan received his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and minor in political science from Florida State University. Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, and raised in Panama City, Florida, he now lives in northern Virginia with his wife Tammy and their five children. He is also an elder at McLean Presbyterian Church.

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