DEL RIO, Texas – When law enforcement and migrants descended upon the small town of Del Rio, the community came together to serve despite their political beliefs.
“Surreal is probably a good word to describe it, both from a pastoral perspective -- having the opportunity to minister to so many people that are really outside of our congregation -- but more so to see how our own congregation has jumped to serve so many visitors,” said Matt Mayberry, the pastor at City Church Del Rio.
Mayberry’s church has been collecting diapers, water, food and other items to help migrants and law enforcement.
About 15,000 migrants, most of them Haitians, crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the U.S. and camped underneath the International Bridge for days. Their goal was to seek asylum after making the treacherous journey, fleeing a country in turmoil.
The mass of people prompted the federal government to shut down the Del Rio International Bridge on Sept. 17. Hundreds of law enforcement, including state troopers, were dispatched to the border town to help with the influx of people under the bridge. With hotel rooms booked and others closed due to the lack of workers who were able to get to Del Rio, residents opened their homes and churches.
Jim Wilson, the pastor at Esperanza Church, housed about 30 state troopers this week.
“They just couldn’t believe that somebody would open this place up for them and allow them to stay here. They said to them it was like the Hilton, and it’s really just handmade wooden bunk beds,” Wilson said.
On Friday, the makeshift camp was cleared, but the bridge remained closed.
The Department of Homeland Security says 8,000 of the 15,000 migrants went back to Mexico voluntarily, and about 2,000 were expelled on 17 flights. That leaves about 5,000 migrants in DHS custody, but DHS is not saying where those migrants were placed.
A group of Haitian Americans from California, New York and other states who have been in contact with people in Haiti looking for their loved ones in the United States are trying to find out where those people are.
The town of about 35,000 has never experienced this type of attention. Wilson hopes people have taken away at least one thing from this international situation as the dust settles.
“Set aside the political battles and just take care of people,” Wilson said.
Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is in his first term, says he is in awe of how his community came together to answer the call for help.
“You have people from both sides of the fence -- really, really vocal on both sides of the fence. They’re all willing to help, you know, just tell us what you need. It don’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat; it just didn’t matter.”