Faith community rallies to help asylum seekers

First shipment of donations arrives for shelters in Piedras Negras

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter

EAGLE PASS, Texas - Warm clothing, gloves, blankets and bedding are necessities in cold weather, especially for asylum seekers who arrive still wearing what they did when they left their homes in Central America months ago.

The Rev. Roberto Gomez Reyes, superintendent of the United Methodist Church in Mexico, said that at one point, about 60 men, women and children were waiting in the cold on the Mexican side of the International Bridge between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement, which said in part that the "CBP continues to conduct initial processing of credible fear claimants at Eagle Pass while facilitating lawful trade and travel and upholding CBP's border security mission. CBP is not denying or discouraging travelers from seeking asylum or any other form of protection, or from claiming fear of return to their home country. 

"When our ports of entry reach capacity, CBP officers' ability to manage all of their missions -- counter-narcotics, national security, facilitation of lawful travel and trade -- is challenged by the time and the space to process people that are arriving without documents. From time to time, we have to manage the queues and address that processing based on that capacity. 

"Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities. CBP officers allow more people into our facilities for processing once space becomes available or other factors allow for additional parties to arrive." (Editor's note: Read full statement below.)

The photos Reyes took and shared moved members of the faith community to action.

George Barnette, missions coordinator of the Hill Country district of the United Methodist Church, said the donations have nothing to do with politics or the debate over immigration policy.

Barnette said it was a humanitarian response to help those in need based on the Gospel of Matthew.

"He was pretty blunt about that's what we got to do," Barnette said. "So who are we to argue with Jesus?"

The first of other shipments yet to come from Kerrville, Johnson City, Boerne, and Sabinal were delivered Monday at Mission: Border Hope, a nonprofit run by Becky Baxter Ballou, the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Eagle Pass.

Ballou said the donations will be taken by Gomez to shelters in Piedras Negras that are now housing asylum seekers awaiting their turn to come to the port of entry in Eagle Pass.

Barnette said the asylum seekers are not part of the caravan that arrived in Tijuana a few weeks ago.

"They're individuals traveling in groups for protection through northern Mexico," he said.

Ballou said donations can be made online through the Mission: Border Hope or dropped off in San Antonio at the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church at 16400 Huebner Road. The phone number is 210-408-4500.

Full U.S. Customs and Border Protection statement:

CBP continues to conduct initial processing of credible fear claimants at Eagle Pass while facilitating lawful trade and travel and upholding CBP's border security mission. CBP is not denying or discouraging travelers from seeking asylum or any other form of protection, or from claiming fear of return to their home country. When our ports of entry reach capacity, CBP officers' ability to manage all of their missions -- counter-narcotics, national security, facilitation of lawful travel and trade -- is challenged by the time and the space to process people that are arriving without documents, from time to time we have to manage the queues and address that processing based on that capacity. 
CBP processes undocumented persons as expeditiously as possible without negating the agency's overall mission, or compromising the safety of individuals within our custody. The number of inadmissible individuals CBP is able to process varies based upon case complexity; available resources; medical needs; translation requirements; holding/detention space; overall port volume; and ongoing enforcement actions. Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities. CBP officers allow more people into our facilities for processing once space becomes available or other factors allow for additional parties to arrive.

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