Op-Ed by Rev. Jim O’Neal
I am a retired Elder in our Conference and have been volunteering to help asylum seekers since January of this year. The reason I got involved was because of the horrible pictures of children being taken from their parents and placed in what I consider to be cages. I was angry and sad. Now I am not so naive as to think our government has not done disturbing things before. However, the current administration is just so blatant and even proud of their disgusting treatment of immigrants. I felt compelled to do something and thus began my work as a volunteer at two Churches that are receiving asylum seekers and helping these immigrants along on their way to their sponsors.
During most of the year when my wife and I are not up north in the Payson area we attend a church in the Phoenix metropolitan area. After talking to my church leadership, I joined the Church and Society Committee and became the coordinator of the Asylum Seekers Ministry. I send out a weekly email to a list of volunteers telling them when a church is receiving a busload of immigrants from ICE. Most of my volunteering has been at a small Hispanic church in a neighboring city. They have a well-organized procedure for processing asylum seekers. However, the financial load became too much and they at one point took two weeks off. Through generous donations, they are now back to receiving asylum seekers each week. Several of my family members including my wife, Chris, regularly help at the participating churches.
ICE keeps dumping more and more of the immigrants off and sometimes just on the street. ICE is doing less and less to aid these folks, who have been granted legal status to seek asylum. ICE no longer pays for or arranges bus or plane tickets. Our government is creating this immigration crisis. People of faith have stepped up and are doing their best to help even though these faith congregations are being taxed financially and with getting enough volunteers, especially for jobs like preparing a meal for 100 people or letting a family stay overnight in their home.
Recently two churches have partnered to be host churches. My wife and I volunteered there during Holy Week on Maundy Thursday. The Pastor and the congregation did a marvelous job. They not only fed, processed, housed, and got bus tickets for the refugees, they also still had a Maundy Thursday foot washing service. We added the two churches as places for our volunteers to help.
In my mind, our government is shirking its responsibility. People should be treated with dignity and should be helped if they are deemed to have a reasonable claim to seek asylum. This is a big mess that our government keeps failing to deal with. Yes, we need to secure borders, but we should also treat people humanely. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with by all the governments of North, Central, and South America and even globally.
I hope this issue gets lifted up more. It is such a heart-wrenching situation. People are fleeing Central America because their daughters are being raped and their sons forced into gang violence. Now ICE has reported that some young people are being kidnapped, drugged unconscious and their organs harvested for wealthy recipients. Some of the asylum seekers have shared their stories. I am one who tries to be “emotionally strong” in public, but I confess after hearing one young mother share her struggles, abuse, and tragic losses… I openly wept with others. May our tears lead us to actively endeavor to seek justice.