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'We Want to Make Sure They See the Love of God': Faith-Based Shelters Prepare for Border Surge

Border Ministries, El Paso, Texas

EL PASO, TX – As the Biden administration prepares to end Title 42, faith-based shelters along the US-Mexico border are getting ready. 

The pandemic-era policy has allowed Border Patrol to turn away close to 2 million migrants at the border in the last two years. Still, the numbers are climbing this year.

In El Paso, Border Patrol apprehended 234,088 people in April, compared to 178,795 in 2021.

Early on a Tuesday morning a volunteer at a Baptist shelter cooks sausage and french toast for sixty parents and their children, dropped off by Border Patrol the night before after immigration processing. The shelter provides showers, lodging, meals, clothes and transportation to the El Paso airport and bus station. From there, migrants travel to family or other sponsors across the country.

"This is just one of the stops on their journey from wherever they're coming from," says Pastor Kelly Knott who oversees the ministry supported by 84 churches in the El Paso Baptist Association as well as Southern Baptists across the state. "We want to make sure that when they stop here with us, especially on this border town in El Paso, Texas in the United States, they see the love of God."

Knott shares the Gospel with the men and women coming through and says the majority are open to the message and respond. 

"Really, no one cares how much we know, but how much we care," he says. "So whatever we can do to sow in any little way."

Knott anticipates even more coming over the border here when Title 42 ends and that's a concern because the shelter is already at capacity.

Ruben Garcia oversees the Baptist shelter and a dozen or so other faith-based sites across the metro area. He founded Annunciation House, the primary hub, over four decades ago. In the last several years, he's created a network of shelters in response to demand. 

The day CBN News visited, he'd received a call from border authorities that 470 migrants would be dropped off that night.

"We are now seeing a ramp up of the number of families," said Garcia. He attributes the numbers to the growing number of countries that refuse to take back the migrants that the US expels. They include: Nicaragua, Venezuela, Turkey and Cuba. And, he says the Biden administration is granting exceptions to Title 42 for those who fear for their safety if they wait in Mexico. 

"It is very dangerous for you to be a refugee and forced to be in Mexico right now," says Garcia, citing cases of assault, kidnapping, extortion, rape and murder of those waiting waiting to be processed under the MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) or Remain in Mexico policy started by the Trump administration.

Garcia says his faith motivates him to care for the migrants who often cross with the most meager possessions. 

"The God of creation identifies first and foremost with the least among us. Matthew 25. It doesn't get more clear than that," he says. 

Volunteer Martha Lay has worked with migrants in El Paso for years, first at Annunciation House and now with Pastor Knott. She oversees the clothing ministry, providing a wardrobe change for those in need after a long and difficult journey.

"As a Christian, I think we need to be helping our brothers and sisters," she says. "I want to come and serve and help them in whatever capacity I can."

These shelters also showcase tremendous cooperation between Border Patrol and local ministries. 

Dylan Corbett, the founding executive director of the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute, says it's one of the untold stories that could pave the way for more permanent solutions.

"This is a community where a lot of people are Border Patrol agents, where alot of people work for immigration enforcement so we know we have to find solutions so we work them out at the local level," he said. "That's what gives me hope. That's what gives me confidence that one day, we'll get to real reform in Washington, D.C."

For now, Garcia watches border trends and numbers climbing as he pursues a mission to open more faith-based shelters in other cities, like Denver and Dallas. If migrant numbers surge, he's hoping to avoid a backlog of people in the El Paso shelters, unable to find a flight or bus ride out of town. If migrants can be transported to other cities, they can find flights and buses in larger metro areas and begin their new life while freeing up space in these shelters.

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