By Billie K. Fidlin, Director of Outreach/Justice
“ICE (U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement) is dropping off 140 people sometime today… ICE is dropping off 90 today… Rumor has it there are another 100 at the bus station… Bus station no longer allowing people inside if they don’t have a ticket… ICE is dropping off at a location near the bus station as they can’t be in the parking lot any more… Can you find a church to let 90 people sleep for the night? Can you find a church to take 40? 140? 200?” “They only need shelter for one night, maybe two, three at the max.” CAN SOMEBODY HELP?
These are the questions that Rev. Brian Kemp-Schlemmer hears basically daily. These are the questions that those of us at the Conference are hearing from Brian and others. These are the questions – that must have answers. Quickly.
“Do you have any clothes to donate? You know they only come with what they can carry, and ICE takes and destroys all of that once they are in ICE custody.” “You know they are not illegal, right? They have had their first meeting with ICE, and have a court date regarding asylum status in their sponsor’s state.” These are asylum seekers, many of whom come from countries with their children because they are trying to save their children from death, so that their organs can be trafficked. We hear about the ‘hollow bodies’ being found. The traffickers like the organs, young. There’s money to be made in organ sales.
“Can you help make food?” “Can you provide translation/interpretation so we can make their travel arrangements?” “Do you have airline miles to donate?” “Can you make up a backpack?” “Do you have a small stuffed animal for a little one?”
This past weekend West District Superintendent Rev. Nancy Cushman and I volunteered at two churches, one a United Methodist church, and then a church from another denomination. We were there sorting clothes, helping with food set up, offering friendly welcomes to those who have traveled a long journey, a journey that continues on here in the states. The complexities and uncertainties are far from over just because they have found temporary refuge in a church. Still unfamiliar territory, still no place to really, finally, rest and begin life again. But none the less, a safe selah in this holy place.
Nancy was amazing – helping to translate and make travel arrangements. I was so impressed. She said her Spanish was rusty – not from what I observed. What a blessing. The first church where we helped – asylum seekers were just arriving. There was an air of exhaustion, but also relief. I watched a little boy, maybe one year old, sleeping on the floor of the hall. So peaceful. So tired. The bare floor safer than the ground in the desert. People were immediately offered water, food was being prepared, travel arrangements, mostly by bus, immediately being made. One by one, family (ie. one parent, one child, maybe two) by family.
This is not how I grew up. This is not what steps I traveled as a one year old. This is not how life should be, for anyone. To kill a child for their organs? And we question… asylum?
People rummaged through clothes, hoping to find something to fit, perhaps shoes without damage to cover their weary feet.
At our church, the people we met had been there for one night already by the time we got there. Of the 70-80 people, about half were leaving that day, then the rest the next. They were much more relaxed, smiling, not hungry. They had been able to wash their clothes. They had been able to eat. The volunteers I met told me this past night had changed their lives. One of the best nights of their life. Our volunteers were so happy. The church, was being, the church. It was all pretty calm. Dads and kids playing soccer in the courtyard. Classrooms filled with Red Cross cots and blankets. A woman came up to me and asked for a hair brush. I gave her mine. A little girl was motioning to me for a hair clip or band. It was easy enough to run to the dollar store and purchase plenty of both. At least the night before there had been enough Spanish/English speakers – one of our Hispanic churches had come to help. Today, an IRC (International Rescue Mission) staff person and Rev. Cushman were helping with the travel piece.
A Saturday of blessing. A Saturday morning with the realization that:
“ICE (U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement) is dropping off 140 people sometime today… ICE is dropping off 90 today… Rumor has it there are another 100 at the bus station… Bus station no longer allowing people inside if they don’t have a ticket… ICE is dropping off at a location near the bus station as they can’t be in the parking lot any more… Can you find a church to let 90 people sleep for the night? Can you find a church to take 40? 140? 200?”