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Immigration and COVID-19 at the U.S. Mexican Border

Written by Sandy McKee

Almost a year ago, my colleague Lynn Sibley and I spoke at Central Presbyterian Church about our travels as Mission Ambassadors to the U.S. Mexican border in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas as well as in some of the border towns in Mexico. We lauded the hard work and generosity of churches on both sides of the border who did so much to help those seeking asylum in our country. Food, clothing, medical care, transportation, teaching language and culture were some of the services provided. We visited an orphanage in Mexico, a medical clinic and housing for volunteers who go to build simple homes for the poor. In the United States, we visited and got to assist at several shelters. Our hearts were warmed constantly by witnessing Christians reaching out to foreigners, the poor and especially women and children as our Savior commands us to do. The world has changed drastically since we shared our experiences with the wonderful folks at Central.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers of refugees seeking asylum were reduced due to government restrictions. Since March, the Southern border is virtually closed to all refugees. They are sent back across the border without being given an asylum interview. Thousands are living in tents in camps in the dangerous Mexican border towns, and American volunteers no longer have people to attend to in U.S. shelters. They are doing their best to assist the churches and charities in Mexico that are overwhelmed, but Mexican shelters still have had to turn people away. Where they used to allow migrants to stay two or three days, now some stay indefinitely. Refugees are overwhelmed with stress and fear and don’t know where to turn. Some of those expelled from the U.S. test positive for the Coronavirus. When a shelter is available, they are tested and sometimes quarantined for fourteen days. Cases are spiking on both sides of the border.

Even unaccompanied children who were once given special consideration are sent back immediately. This “rapid expulsion“ without any explanation or due process flies in the face of international humanitarian laws and treaties that require life saving protection to refugees. While some argue that it’s safest to keep the border closed, others point out that truck drivers, students and other cross the border daily.

As with so many issues, we are a nation divided on immigration. President Trump has repeatedly called asylum a scam and says our country is full. Of course, Biden opposes Trump’s policies calling them “morally bankrupt and racist.” He believes we should do more to address the root causes of migration in the nation’s of origin. While this oversimplifies positions on a very complex issue, it is yet one more thing for voters to consider as November elections draw near, and it’s one of many topics that I’d love to hear addressed by Jesus in 2020.

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