Can Loving “Illegals” Save Our Souls? (Part One)

Every day, as most Americans enjoy lives of relative comfort, thousands of migrants from Central America and Mexico travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles through dangerous terrain. Their mission is simple: to step foot on American soil, where they hope to find work and maybe a safe place to live. Many of these migrants have fled unimaginable violence and poverty back home to claim asylum in "the land of the free". Since 2014, the number of refugees crossing the border has skyrocketed, maxing out government facilities, which led to the protracted, highly politicized border crisis we've all seen in the news.

In debates like this one, we’re so quick to point out who the villains are and what the solutions are that we forget to answer the most important questions: Where is God in this crisis? What does He want us to learn from this? And what does He want us to do about it? On this episode, the Maybe God team travels to El Paso to search for God’s voice in the voices of asylum-seekers and their allies along the border.

To learn more about Annunciation House, the organization featured in this episode, click here.

On this episode, the Maybe God team travels to El Paso to search for God’s voice in the voices of asylum-seekers and their allies along the border.

Annunciation House in El Paso, TX

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Eric HuffmanAs we record from the Maybe God podcast studio in Houston, Texas, about 300 miles from Mexico two headlines this week have renewed public outrage over the ongoing crisis at the southern border.
News anchorA tragic image from the southern border reveals the grim reality facing many Central American migrants who make the dangerous journey. We warn you the photo you are about to see is disturbing.
Eric HuffmanOn Monday, June 23 a photo journalist captured one of the most horrific images I've ever seen.
News anchorIt shows a young father and his 23 month old daughter who died trying to cross the Rio Grande in south Texas.
Eric HuffmanHer tiny head tucked inside her daddy's T-shirt. Her arm draped over his neck.
News anchorThey were found in shallow water a few hundred yards from where they tried to cross.
Eric HuffmanTwenty six year old Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and twenty-three month old Valeria died just hours earlier attempting to cross into the US and seek asylum.
SpeakerThey had actually been around the border for a while when they decided on Sunday to try cross the Rio Grand.
Eric HuffmanTanya Avalos watched from across the river as her husband and young daughter were swept away by the current.
News anchorShe says Martinez grabbed the toddler but the two were swept away by the current and they could not get out.
Speaker(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanTragic stories like this one are on the rise. Record numbers of migrants are fleeing extreme poverty and violence in countries like Honduras and Guatemala. Last February alone, more than 76,000 migrants crossed the border without authorization. Families like Oscars travel for weeks, often in large groups because they provide safety from kidnappers and traffickers. And when they finally arrive in Mexico hoping to request asylum from US authorities, they're given a number and told that it could be weeks, maybe months before they can even start the asylum process. In part because of recent efforts in Washington to tighten the country's asylum system.
Donald TrumpWhen you see these caravans starting out with 20,000 people, that's an invasion.
Eric HuffmanThat doesn't stop these migrants. They're not willing to wait it out in an often dangerous Mexican border town. And so many of them make the risky decision to cross the border illegally. The one's who do make it face a US border system that's well beyond capacity. Processing centers filled over flowing. Border agents who are struggling to treat the urgent medical needs of the people they encounter. And thousands of migrants who are crammed into detention centers that were not built to house them. With more bus loads full of asylum seekers arriving everyday.
News anchorLawyers say hundreds of migrant children were forced to sleep on the floor for weeks without enough food. In this customs and border protection facility in Clint, Texas, just outside of El Paso.
Eric HuffmanMore news reports this week of children being forced to live behind cages and inhumane conditions, often without their parents. Have shocked our collective conscience.
SpeakerMany of the children had not had access to a single shower or bath. They were wearing the same dirty clothing that they crossed the border with.
Eric HuffmanWarren Binford, one of the lawyers who inspected the detention center told PBS what she witnessed firsthand.
Warren BinfordWe saw a little boy in diapers, or he had no diapers on. He should have had a diaper on, he was two years old. And when I asked why he didn't have diapers on, I was told he didn't need it. He immediately urinated and he was in the care of another child. Children cannot take care of children, and yet that's how they are trying to run this facility.
Eric HuffmanThe news surrounding this mass influx of migrants at the border has mostly inspired us as US citizens, myself included to engage in a noisy caustic often divisive debate. A debate over whether or not these caravans entering our country are filled with criminals.
Donald TrumpYou have some very very bad people in the caravan.
Eric HuffmanWhether or not we should employ more rigid policies to keep people from entering the US.
SpeakerThere are babies who have been left behind. Parents who've been deported with their children left behind someplace in America. What kind of country does that?
Eric HuffmanAnd whether or not a border wall is part of the solution.
SpeakerWe need to build that wall and I tell you what, it shouldn't even be controversial. It shouldn't be, we need to have...
SpeakerQuiet please.
Eric HuffmanIn debates like this one, we're so quick to point out who the villains are and what the solutions are that we forget to answer the most important questions. Where is God in this crisis? What does he want us to learn from it? And what does he want us to do about it? Several months ago in true maybe God fashion, we sat out to approach this politically charged issue from a different angle than what we're all seeing and hearing in the news everyday. Instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, we're inviting you to listen to the voices of people for whom the border crisis is real everyday life. In the next two episodes you're going to hear true stories of pain, sacrifice, hope and faith. I dare you to sit with what you feel without moving on too quickly to any pat answers or knee jerk reactions. Especially if you're a Christian. I dare you to stretch beyond your comfort zone and to listen to God's voice and the voice of asylum seekers. And the people along the border who are welcoming them and loving them in ways that every Christian should.
Radio(Maybe God Intro)
Eric HuffmanYou're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. What images come to mind when you think of a border town? Border towns take center stage in western films like The Wild Bunch and No Country for Old Men. Where they're often shown as lawless bastions of paranoia and bloodshed. But if you ever visit El Paso, Texas hoping to find the wild west, you might be disappointed. Real border towns can tend to feel rather tame. Boring even. El Paso feels a lot like any other growing American city. And so you look across the Rio Grand and realize that you're looking at Mexico. El Paso in Ciudad Juárez are separated only by a few hundred yards of mostly dry concrete riverbed. Socially and economically El Paso and Juárez are every much intertwined. Border crossing is a fundamental part of life for residents on both sides. More than 20,000 pedestrians and 35,000 private passenger vehicles cross this region's border every single day to go to work, school, or to run errands. Juárez is Mexico's manufacturing powerhouse. And El Paso is a transportation hub for trains and trucks, buses and cars. A convenient midway point between America's east and west coasts. Which explains why in 2018 El Paso recorded more than 81 billion dollars of trade passing through its three ports of entry. Texas Government officials have estimated that in 2015, trade in that area alone added over 128,000 jobs in Texas. And at least 18.4 billion dollars to the state's economy.
SpeakerPut your hands up! Put your hands up!
SpeakerGet over there! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!
Eric HuffmanBut living in a border town comes with pros and cons. El Paso is not immune to drug and human trafficking and other crimes associated with illegal activity at the border. For as long as the border has been in place, people have been crossing it illegally. And as we've seen in recent years, civil war, extreme poverty and gang violence in Central America have created massive influxes of asylum seeking refugees. It's against this backdrop that you'll find Annunciation House, an old two story red brick somewhat dilapidated building. Located just 10 blocks from the US/ Mexican border. In 1978 a small group of Catholic young adults from El Paso turned this building into a shelter for undocumented immigrants who couldn't access government aid.
Speaker(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanRuben Garcia is one of the Founders of Annunciation House.
Ruben GarciaWhat we were trying to wrestle with is the realization that the God of creation identifies first and foremost with the least among us. We asked ourselves a question, "Who might that be?" And so we started walking the streets, and in the process, we would refer people to resources that we thought could help them. And then one day something happened. Someone we referred to one of the shelters came back and said, "Where you sent me, they will not help me." And when we asked why not, the response came back, "Because we're undocumented."
Eric HuffmanFrom 1978 to 2014 Ruben and a team of mostly volunteers funded entirely by private donations, provided food, shelter, clothing and medical attention to countless undocumented people. Annunciation House even became a spot that border patrol occasionally raided when hunting for migrants who crossed illegally. All that began to change five years ago. That's when the first wave of central Americans arrived in Mass and completely redefined what life along the southern border looked like. Prior to that year people would cross illegally and hide from border patrol. But starting in 2014, people were crossing and looking for border patrol to turn themselves in and initiate the asylum process. As the numbers grew, it became clear that government organizations like Immigration and Customs Enforcement also know as ICE, were not prepared to help hundreds of thousands of people waiting inside the US while their asylum cases were being processed.
SpeakerAuthorities in El Paso, Texas scrambled over the Christmas holiday to assist hundreds of migrant asylum seekers who were dumped suddenly by ICE officials outside a greyhound bus terminal without any plan to house them.
Eric HuffmanThat's when organizations, many faith based like Annunciation House became indispensable.
SpeakerThey told us they were taking us to a shelter. They didn't say they were taking us directly to the bus station.
SpeakerWe're a little perplexed because this is not something that ICE typically does.
SpeakerDylan Corbett is the Director of Hope Order Institute. He says usually the Federal Agency communicates with Annunciation House, a nonprofit shelter so that it's prepared for the intake.
Eric HuffmanJust a few months ago, when the number of migrants entering the US was at a record high, Ruben would get two calls or texts per day from ICE officials telling him how many migrants they plan to release that day outside of his shelters.
Ruben GarciaWhat differentiates this wave from the past is that it's not one or two thousand. We're now looking at 3,500 to 4,000 and climbing. That's what's making this very very difficult.
Eric HuffmanBy the spring of 2019, Annunciation House had grown from that tiny brick building to a network of 25 hospitality sites. Including hotels and churches receiving up to a thousand migrants every single day.
LindyMy name is Lindy and we are at Casa Oscar Romero, which is one of the hospitality houses with Annunciation House.
Eric HuffmanBack in May, the Maybe God team spent 48 hours inside on of Annunciation Houses busiest shelters. Following a volunteer who moved from California to Texas to run day to day operations.
LindyI did just receive the text from Ruben and it gives us the number of refugee releases each day. Today it looks as though the combined total from both ICE and border patrol is going to be 1,013 refugees released in the El Paso and Las Cruces areas combined. We do not actually have space to receive all of those refugees, so let me ... I'm going to check to see how many people, like the absolute most that we can take in today. Hey, so the text for today it came in and it says that we're receiving 1,013.
SpeakerWow.
LindyYeah, so let's figure out the absolute max number and then we can at least let him know that.
SpeakerOkay.
LindyThere's more we can do here. I mean it's really a thing where if we don't have space, they're going to release to the street. And that's what we spend everyday trying to have not happen.
Eric HuffmanLindy races to figure out how many guests she can squeeze into Casa Oscar Romero. And volunteers at all the other Annunciation House sites do the same.
LindyWhat did you get Will?
SpeakerForty five slips, so 90.
LindyNinety, oh my goodness, 90 people still here. Well we can give it a shot seeing if our capacity really is 200.
Eric HuffmanMeanwhile Ruben is strategizing how to spread the refugees out among all the different shelters, churches and even hotels. Just minutes later, buses arrive carrying the first wave of refugees.
LindyIf it's a large white bus like this it means they're coming from ICE directly. I'm just going to find out the number of people on this bus so I can keep track to make sure we're receiving as many as we're supposed to today.
LindyHi.
SpeakerHi, how are you?
LindyGood. How many people on this one?
SpeakerWe got 47.
LindyForty seven, okay.
SpeakerSomebody else dropped?
LindyNot yet, I assume there's a second bus on the way. (Spanish)
LindyUsually I just try to wait so that I can greet each individual person as they come in. (Spanish)
Eric HuffmanCasa Oscar Romero is next door to an ICE processing center. And it used to be a family detention facility for families in ICE custody. From the outside it still looks like a jail. Its windows are covered with bars, so it's not surprising that as the migrants stepped off the bus, many were clearly afraid. They assumed that they were being transferred into another ICE facility.
LindyPeople were being held in really deplorable conditions and treated in ways that no human being should be treated. And that's evident in the faces when you see the kids coming and they're almost always sick. Most often it's not anything too too serious, but everyone has calls. The coughing, just feeling pretty awful. Most times they've not been eating well, they're not given sufficient food. They haven't showered, people are forced to sleep on cement floors with aluminum blankets. Agents will literally throw food at people. The words that are used to describe them. Go back to your country, you're this or you're that, words I wouldn't even repeat. And the thing that I hear more than anything when people do start talking about the experience that they had is they treated us like animals. They told us we were animals.
Eric HuffmanLindy is quick to point out that some migrants also tell stories about noble gracious border patrol agents who went out of their way to show them kindness. But on the whole, spending weeks inside an over crowded detention center can be almost as traumatic as the journey to the United States. Knowing how much trauma these families have already suffered and realizing that many of them are frightened and confused about where they've been taken. Lindy launches into her welcome speech as quickly as she can. Even before leading her new guests inside.
Lindy(Spanish) We are the first people they're released to. Literally the second they step off the bus, that's the first time that they're not detained. And everything that we do here is in an attempt to just be the exact opposite of a lot of the things that they've experienced while they were being held. That can be anywhere, I've heard two days, I've heard 14 days. We just want to make sure that as soon as we see them, that they know that this is different. (Spanish) I usually start out by saying a million times, "We're so happy that you're here. You're so welcome." One of the first things I say is, "That you're not detained. You know if you want to leave, if you want to walk around, you can do any of those things." I make it very clear that we're an organization with the church, that often really helps. You can see faces soften immediately after I say that. I always want them to know that we don't work with the government in any way. We're volunteers so that they know that is why we're here, because we want to be. We're here because we love them and you know we want to extend that to them.
LindyThose are some of the things I always let them know that we're going to call their families. (Spanish) That's the most exciting thing that they could possibly hear. And then there's no way they're leaving after that and also that we have food. That's pretty cool. They're ready to come in. (Spanish)
LindyWhen you come inside, I think you see the very different nature of what we're trying to create here. All of our walls are brightly colored for that reason. The dorms, the kids playrooms, everything has a very cheery feel inside. And it is very much like a home. We have our kitchen, a very large kitchen which is constantly filled with guests who are cooking and cleaning. And doing all sorts of things just keeping that running.
SpeakerHey we got plenty of peccadillo Lucy.
LucyYes we do.
Eric HuffmanAs soon as they're settled at Casa Oscar Romero, it's the migrants who do the cooking, the laundry and whatever else is needed to take care of the shelter together.
SpeakerI noticed an interestingly as we were following you around, you refer to everyone here as guests.
LindyYes.
SpeakerWhy is that?
LindyBecause that's exactly what everyone here is. (Spanish)
LindyThis is the stack of papers, they're basically intake forms. The thing they want to do the most is call their families and know that the families are looking for their tickets.
Eric HuffmanMost Central American migrants are just passing through El Paso. Their stay at Casa Oscar Romero can be as short as one or two days. In order to seek asylum in the US, they need a sponsor inside the country. Usually that's a family member, so when they're released from government custody, the first thing they want to do is contact their family inside the states to figure out the fastest way to get to them.
LindyTo be continued, wow that's very kind of you.
Speaker(Spanish)
LindyThe process... it's seamless. People are being released from ICE. They're being released from border patrol. They come to us you know as long as they're not being dropped off to the street. You know we take them in, they come to all of our different sites. Churches, our full time receiving sites, hotels. We call the families, the families buy the tickets. Almost immediately the next day they're on buses or they're in planes and they're going to their families.
Speaker(Spanish)
LindyThey're so grateful to be here. They're so kind and so generous and we all work together immediately to make sure that everyone's needs are met. They look out for us, we look out for them. And you really do even in just a couple of days it's hard to say goodbye to people. We get them to the airport or when they're leaving and they come up and want to just thank us for giving them a home for the couple days that they were here. Yes, I absolutely say that the people coming through our houses are family to us.
Oscar(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanHere Lindy is explaining to Oscar how bus travel is generally the safest and easiest way to go in the US because they'll be more likely to find people along the way who speak Spanish. She assures Oscar that a volunteer will go with him to the bus station to make sure he gets on his first bus without any problems.
Lindy(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanLindy and the rest of the volunteers go out of their way to show these asylum seekers kindness. Knowing that the outside world won't always be as friendly.
Lindy(Spanish)
SpeakerYou're saying you have cream? What is the cream?
LindyIt's hydrocortisone cream and it's for the bottoms of her feet. Because she walked for a very long time and she's in a lot of pain.
SpeakerOkay.
LindyI heard it said that in doing this work, you encounter the absolute best in humanity and you also encounter the worst. And I have seen that time and time again. There have been so many times where I have been brought to tears by the hatred and just the close mindedness. I can't grasp the concept of how you can feel the way that some people do about another human being. About a child, about a parent who's just trying to do the best that they can for their children. That's very difficult for me. There are many times where we receive harassing phone calls, or just people wanting to spread hatred. And so that's difficult to hear and to see. But on the opposite side, I can tell you I have cried so many more times as I cry now. But just seeing the love of the community here in El Paso, just everyone throughout the United States that whether comes here or just calls to encourage us or sends anything, just socks and underwear, you know whatever in the mail. People that stop by Annunciation House to give $5 because they want to help the refugees. I've never in my life encountered so much love. Not just from the people doing this work, but from the refugees who are coming. Yes there absolutely is hate and sometimes I definitely struggle with that. But it's overcome so much by the love that people are sharing here.
Eric HuffmanWe asked Lindy if she thinks the people she encounters everyday here at Casa Oscar Romero have legitimate reasons for seeking asylum in the US.
LindyThe vast vast majority of the people that I have met have absolutely legitimate reasons to be coming here.
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanThis is Heriberto from Guatemala. He says, "The truth is when we left our country, we left our family behind crying. We left them without any money for food."
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric Huffman"They've suffered because they had no way of knowing how our journey would go from our house to here."
LindyWhat constitutes the need for someone to come? Where is the line drawn between, "Well, you know you're not facing enough violence, so that means you're taking advantage of the system. Or well your poverty isn't this severe." Or poverty not even being considered as a legitimate reason to come here.
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric Huffman"In our country there's so much violence, so much poverty. We came to the US to work. We're hard working honorable people, honest people."
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric Huffman"And we're going to earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brow, always. And we trust that in the name of God, things will be okay in the end."
LindyThe poverty that they're facing can be in some ways very dangerous as well, because so many of the people that we see here, they're not able to feed their children. And so I don't think we understand that. There's no way I can possibly understand what a decision like that would be. And the nature of the desperation of having to make that choice.
SpeakerWe had a family of four who came and they were separated from a special needs cousin who can't speak or hear. And he was sent to a Casa de Menores two days ago. I was speaking to the mom and she's obviously saying she's very concerned about her child.
LindyOh my god. Okay, so how old is he?
SpeakerSeventeen.
LindyAnd did we give her the hotline?
SpeakerNo I didn't.
LindyOkay. Yeah, so unfortunately the only thing we're going to be able to do is give the mother the hotline and just hope that they answer and are able to help. I mean depending on the number of days...
LindyThink one of the things too that we should be careful of is not constantly painting these asylum seekers as victims. They are, they have been victims of horrific crimes at times and victims of horrible treatment here, even after they cross. But to just only tell that narrative completely ignores how resilient the people that I have met here are. How much joy they have somehow managed to hold on to.
LindyAnd bring to us and bring to the this country. I think there's absolutely the story of heroism to be told in conjunction with the very difficult things they have faced that they face on the journey that they face once they get here.
Eric HuffmanWhen Lindy first applied to be a full time volunteer, she assumed Ruben would have an issue with the fact that she's not a practicing Christian. The Annunciation House website states the volunteer workers must know that Jesus demands solidarity with and among all of his poor. Because it is in the wounded poor and oppressed that he brings about his kingdom and the world's redemption. Lindy was surprised when Ruben didn't count her lack of religiosity against her. I had to wonder if that rule on the website was actually meant for Christians who want to do mission work along the border. But who might not really get what Annunciation House is all about. And this is what I mean, these are polarizing times in America. And the immigration issue is one of our most polarizing political footballs. And somehow many Christians have allowed our political preferences to take priority over the clarion call of Jesus to at least be compassionate and sacrificial and loving toward people who are vulnerable and ostracized and on the outside looking in. Lindy's experience with American Christians who seem to care more about protecting themselves than helping some of the most helpless people is what led her to walk away from Christianity in the first place.
LindyI grew up in a very conservative Christian home. That was my life until probably I was in college and it was a very closed community in that it was like a bubble. And I was very sheltered within it, but wasn't until I was in college. Until I went to a public school for the first time that I started meeting people that maybe didn't fit the mold of what I was told was right and acceptable. I was always raised to believe very specifically that if you're a Christian, you're a Republican. And if you're a Democrat, that means that you're basically not a Christian. And I'm not exaggerating that. I am not suggesting that every church believes this, but that is what I was raised to believe. I remember specifically we had one student whose parents were Democrats and we prayed for that student and the family. And I say this because I really do want to express where I think the problem comes in is if that's your attitude, what happens then is that any policy, any point of view, anything that's even remotely associated with a different political party or a different way of thinking, well then those things must be wrong.
Speaker(Spanish)
LindyI just wish that the church and the people who I know who are so loving and so kind and so amazing would be able to embrace ideas from people that might not agree with them on every issue. Because I think this is one that we should really fall on the side of love.
Lindy(Spanish)
LindyPeople are willing to step into that very uncomfortable world of saying, "Maybe I'm wrong. You know maybe there is something else that could also fit into my understanding of the world." I think that's where progress can be found.
Eric HuffmanLindy says Annunciation House couldn't do what they do without the help of churches and other religious communities. Catholic and Mormon churches are especially active in caring for the refugees. But in her experience, it's taken evangelical protestant churches like the church she grew up in a little bit longer to put politics aside and realize how in most cases the people in these migrant communities came here because of their faith in God. Think about that. These Christians trusted their God so much that they packed their bags and left their homes. Some of them with children in tow and traveled thousands of miles, risking everything along the way. All because they were confident that God would take care of them. That's the kind of faith every Christian should be striving for.
Heriberto(Spanish)
LindyIt was hard to be around any sort of Christianity for me until I came here. As I cry again, until I met these people.
Heriberto(Spanish)
LindyAt Annunciation House we pray before every meal. And usually we ask the guests if any of them would like to pray. And the vast majority of our guests coming are Christians. Someone always wants to pray or multiple people always want to pray, and I cry every single time, because never in my life have I experienced this level of faith. Because these families are leaving behind horrible, terrible circumstances and taking this huge chance trying to come here. And I think to myself, I know what's ahead of them and I know that they're probably going to be deported, and they might know that too, but every single person I speak with just has faith that it's whatever God has for them. I'm here by the grace of God. I'm here thanks to Him, and he's going to get us whatever is in our future. And just the love and the appreciation, it's the first time in a very long time where I've been encouraged in my faith. And I have been so blessed by it.
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanBefore saying goodbye, we wished good luck. And this was his response.
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric Huffman"For us luck doesn't exist. Luck is fleeting, I believe our faith and trust in God has gotten us this far. And he will continue helping us, blessing us, and protecting us all along this journey to reach our goal."
Heriberto(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanIt's all about our faith in God and we're going to do everything in our power to behave ourselves. To be good people here in the US, virtuous people who don't cause any problems in your country.
Speaker(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanLindy says that the love she experienced from guests like Heriberto and from all the locals who stepped up to help them was the closest she's ever come to experiencing the love of Jesus firsthand. And if that had been her experience as a kid growing up in church, she'd probably be calling herself a Christian today. Still Lindy's work alongside asylum seekers has been a lifeline for her fledgling faith. Because of their faith, she still believes that God is real. And because she's seeing God answering their prayers time and time again, she's come to trust that God always finds a way to provide for his children.
Speaker(Spanish)
Eric HuffmanJoining me now in the Maybe God Studio is Producer Julie Miraculous.
Julie MirlicourtoisHey Eric.
Eric HuffmanHey Julie, so we were wrapping up production on part one of this episode. And we were getting ready to release it when you called to check in on Lindy and she had a pretty shocking update from El Paso. What's happening.
Julie MirlicourtoisYeah, well we met Lindy back in mid-May just as she was wrapping up her six month shift as a Site Coordinator for Annunciation House. And after that she left for Guatemala to work on her Spanish. She realized that she wanted to work longterm with these migrant communities. And when she returned to the US very recently, she heard that Annunciation House went from receiving 7, 800, up to 1,000 people per day to about 200 people, and that sharp decline happened in just a few weeks time. Annunciation House had to shut down some of its shelters, especially the hotel and the church sites.
Eric HuffmanWow, so what was the reason for the drop in the numbers?
Julie MirlicourtoisRuben Garcia actually just said a few days ago that ICE hasn't offered any official explanation to him. But he suspects a few factors are contributing to this change. First, the hot weather might be discouraging people who are traveling by foot. On top of that, the Mexican National Guard are ramping up efforts to prevent people from reaching the border. That's mostly because the Trump administration threatened to impose commercial tariffs if Mexico didn't do something to stop the flow of migrants into the US. But probably the biggest factor is the recent expansion of the Trump administration's Remain in Mexico program. Which has already been in place for several months now. We sent a Maybe God producer in Juarez back in May and she reported that there were already thousands of migrants in Mexico waiting to be called into El Paso for their initial asylum interviews.
SpeakerHow long do people wait generally?
SpeakerSome people have to wait from three months to maybe one year or more.
Julie MirlicourtoisOut of the thousands of people waiting, only a few people a day were getting called over. Which meant they could be waiting in Mexican shelters for several months at a time.
Eric HuffmanWow.
Julie MirlicourtoisAnd that's a big reason more and more people started crossing illegally and turning themselves into border patrol. Like many of the migrants that we met in this episode.
Eric HuffmanRight.
Julie MirlicourtoisBut now the program is being expanded all along the border. And the administration has actually renamed it from Remain in Mexico to Migrant Protection Protocols. And now migrants who manage to cross the border are being sent back to Mexico to wait out their asylum cases instead of being released to shelters like Annunciation House. And going to live with family in the US. At this point, the government has already sent back around 7,000 people and that's just from El Paso, back to Juarez.
Eric HuffmanWow.
Julie MirlicourtoisAdd to that the thousands who were already there waiting. It's just a total nightmare scenario. And much like the family separation policy last year that everyone was so worked up about, this expansion of the Remain in Mexico program is causing migrant advocates like Lindy a ton of concern.
Eric HuffmanWe are of course, but I guess just to play devil's advocate, I mean what's so wrong about people going and waiting in Mexico instead of the US?
Julie MirlicourtoisRight, it seems like it could be a solution to the problem in some ways. Since we have these overflowing detention centers. But for most people who cross into El Paso, they're being sent back to Juarez, which is among the most dangerous cities in the world.
SpeakerThis is Anapra, it's not know for the best resources. And it's known for a place in which bodies were found.
Julie MirlicourtoisRight now there are about half a dozen active shelters run by nonprofits and churches in Juarez. But most of them are full, so that means that many of the migrants are out on the streets, homeless, or pooling their resources to share run down hotel rooms or apartments in high crime areas. Living in really really dangerous situations for months at a time. And while waiting for their court dates, migrants including children have already been victims of kidnappings, gang rape and violent theft.
SpeakerMany of them don't have work permits, so they have to be working outside of the law, so it's a very bad situation.
Julie MirlicourtoisThe other issue is that while they're waiting in Mexico, they don't have the same access to legal aid. That they would in the US to help with their asylum cases.
Eric HuffmanWow, okay so what's happening here is that people who have already escaped trauma and who as we'll hear in the next episode, have endured a lot of trauma just to get here. Are then being told to wait in Juarez in conditions that will only add to their trauma. While they're also being deprived of some due process in the form of adequate legal representation. How are these asylum seekers responding to these new challenges? Are they choosing just to go back to their home countries?
Julie MirlicourtoisSome are. A representative from Hope Border Institute of El Paso recently told the true story of a woman who decided to go home with her children. Because if she were killed in Juarez, her kids would have no family to take care of them. But back in their home country, they have family. If she were killed there, they would have someone to care for them.
Eric HuffmanGod, that's just devastating to hear. But I do think on the other hand it's something we really need to hear. A lot of us need to hear this. I was thinking back to our LGBT episodes earlier this year and how for the most part, not entirely, but for the most part, the people who were pleased with my position. Tended to lean conservative politically, while most of the people who were angry or upset tend to lean to the left. And I think these episodes on immigration are going to have the opposite effect. Because it's really really hard to justify hard line, no mercy position on immigrants and refugees when you read the Bible. And that's what I love most about God in the Bible. And the fact that he is just an equal opportunity offender. He offends the left on some issues, he offends the right on some others. He doesn't leave any of us unscathed because it's all to remind us that we still have a long way to go. All of us have a long way to go before we love people the same way that he does.
Eric HuffmanI know how a lot of conservatives I guess will respond to these episodes. Remember I've been in Texas most of my life. I know that there are people who are genuinely worried about crime and drugs and terrorists coming through a porous border. And I do get that, but listen, I mean if we're Christians at all, we must be Christians first. And according to the Bible, these migrants and asylum seekers are our brothers and sisters. And over 20 times the Bible directly commands us to welcome the strangers in our midst. And to love the least of God's children without counting the costs.
Julie MirlicourtoisWow that's really powerful. I hope people on both sides can really hear that. And in our next episode we're going to dig deeper into how the Bible speaks to this migrant crisis. Part two will be out next week and this is the story that I'm actually most anxious to share with our listeners. I spent the day recently in San Antonio with a Mennonite pastor who runs a hospitality house for migrants who are stranded there. And he made some very bold statements about why we should want these communities of migrants in our country. Not waiting in Mexico or back at home in Central America, because not being able to witness their faith and what God is doing through them would be like not showing up to see Jesus healing people.
Eric HuffmanWow.
SpeakerI realize what I want to be able to do is not necessarily say I helped out a bunch of people. But I want to be able to say I was able to bear witness to their beautiful faith. And their faith in the midst of darkness and fear.
SpeakerIn the same way that you'd want to go and show up when Jesus was healing that woman. Or going into the room with that little dead girl. Or walking down the road toward Jerusalem to heal the world. I want to be there witnessing this church, this body of Christ that's coming to us. It's transforming to us.
Julie MirlicourtoisPastor John Garland calls these migrants the pilgrim church. And he believes they're here to completely transform our faith, so we'll hear some of their unbelievable stories too in the next episode.
Eric HuffmanI'm also going to be sharing some of my own stories about the years I spent in Kansas City living in a community of mostly undocumented immigrants, teaching them English, helping them find housing and employment. As well as healthcare and education for their children. It was needless to say an incredibly challenging time. Especially because I wasn't actually a Christian yet. And in that time I found myself leaning on my own strength entirely and let's just say I wasn't strong enough to handle it. Guys, tune in next week for part two. Thanks as always for listening to Maybe God.
Julie MirlicourtoisMaybe God is produced by Eric Huffman and Julie Mirlicourtois. This episode was Co-produced by Kayla McCormick. Our sound engineers are Nathan Bonnes and Aubrey Snider. And Editors are Shannon Stephon and Justin Mayer. A special thanks to our new researcher, Tim Bursh. For more information about this episode, including a full transcript and study guide, head to Maybegodpod.com. And as always, we want to hear from you, so email us your questions and your feedback to producers at Maybegodpod.com and leave us your reviews on iTunes today so more people can find us. Thanks for tuning in.

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