Presbyterian Church (USA) – Presbyterians continue to seek ways to support asylum seekers arriving in the United States
Recent decisions by the governors of Texas, Florida and Arizona to bus asylum seekers into Democratic-run cities like Washington, DC; Chicago; and New York drew heavy criticism nationwide. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is part of several Christian denominations and social justice organizations calling this decision purely political and manipulating individuals in search of a new life.
For months, buses full of asylum seekers have been ferried to these towns with little or no notice to affected communities. Some of the most high-profile filings have included outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in DC and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Many nonprofits and voluntary organizations in affected towns say they are overwhelmed by the arrivals, leaving many travelers to fend for themselves.
Amanda Craft, immigration advocacy manager for the General Assembly Office, said she has been in touch with several Presbyterians in some of the host towns, including New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.
“The church offered a respite center one day a week. Members and friends of the congregation welcome and care for asylum seekers during their stay. Several buses were arriving each week at the height of the movement,” she said. “But it slowed down. Some weeks no one comes. It’s not consistent. »
Craft adds that initially it was a scramble for DC to provide help. But now it’s coordinated.
“They usually know at least 10 hours in advance if a bus is coming. So there was coordination between the groups,” she said. “Asylum seekers are responsible for getting from the border at their destination, most often with family or friends.Some asylum seekers choose to take the government-funded bus because it brings them closer.
According to Craft, churches in other communities have a variety of responses in how they deal with travelers who come to their communities.
“Presbyterians try to fill the need where they can. Some offer space in their church if available. Other services include providing meals, providing some activities for children, helping people find clothes, and arranging travel from the city they arrive to where they are headed . That was the compassionate response,” Craft said. “Like the Chicago Rectory, many are also calling for advocacy efforts to change policies. There is the compassionate welcome for people with urgent needs and there is also the pressure from lawmakers to review how asylum seekers enter the immigration system and how they are treated by that system.
Craft says she’s disappointed the Biden administration hasn’t been able to make more progress in clearing the way for immigrants entering the United States
“There are times when states step into litigation that makes it difficult, but the Biden administration hasn’t necessarily been willing to push back and has made deals with Mexico to keep people there,” she said. “There are actions the administration has taken that have many people wondering if the leadership is willing to take political risks to do the right thing.”
Craft says he’s heard that 10% to 15% of migrants arriving in DC want to stay there, which could pose some problems.
“DC hasn’t been a community that has generally been a place for migrants to settle. It’s very expensive and there’s not much of a job market for those coming in,” he said. she says.”Community leaders are asking, how can we become a place where we can be a long-term host city? There are places outside of the city where migrants live, but not generally in DC proper. said. There has been pressure for the city council to respond and open an office, but so far city officials are focused on the short-term response. There will be long-term needs that they have not yet understood.
For those who want to do more to support immigrants coming to the United States, Craft advises individuals to connect with their elected officials and make sure to think about that when they go to the polls in November.
“If 50% of asylum seekers (for those who have access to a lawyer) have to be sent back to their country of origin, what will happen if these cases are not decided in their favour? We have not legislatively answered the question about long-term residents who may end up undocumented,” she said. “We need to understand these elements as people invest in community, invest in church membership. It is a place where I hope Presbyterians can be creative, supportive and persistent. We don’t want to see people pushed into the shadows as status becomes inaccessible. This is another element we will need to continue to urge lawmakers to change.