— ACT/Sean Hawkey

Families and children from around the world—the majority originating in Central America—continue to arrive at the U.S./Mexico border in search of safety and hope. The increasing number of people leaving El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in recent years has been widely recognized as a humanitarian emergency, rooted in decades of poverty, failed government policies, broken families, lack of protection for women and children, and violence that continues to plague the region. 

U.S. and international refugee law states that asylum seekers have the legal right to seek protection from persecution and violence and should not be detained for seeking refuge. In addition, it is the government’s duty to ensure that there is meaningful access to the asylum process. 

As the number of asylum seekers has grown at the southern border, instead of developing pro-active mechanisms to ensure an orderly asylum process, the U.S. government has instead implemented policies to deter people from seeking asylum:

  • Separation of families, including young children from their parents
  • Closing of the border ports of entry to asylum seekers or limiting processing to 12 or 20 per day, referred to as metering
  • Criminal charges for entry or smuggling of their children—forcing them to go to Federal Court in addition to immigration court
  • Sub-standard detention conditions at border stations
  • Remain in Mexico Policy which deports people to Mexico while they wait for their asylum case to be heard in immigration court


How do the number of asylum seekers impact our U.S. population?

One of the reasons given for the harsh border enforcement is that the U.S. is simply overrun or overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers. While the number of children and families seeking asylum are higher than the previous decade, they are not unprecedented. As the chart below illustrates, the number of people granted asylum goes up and down as circumstances change around the world and at no time in this century has the number reached even 1% of the U.S. population. Compare this to other host countries where refugees are 25–30% of the total population.

Where is the opportunity in all of this?

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is mandated by the General Assembly to provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers and to work with other denominational offices and ecumenical partners to promote just and humane treatment. As such, PDA—in cooperation with the Office of the General Assembly's Office of Immigration Issues, the Office of Public Witness, Presbyteries, Synods, and ecumenical and interfaith partners along the border—provides support to local non-profits and faith-based coalitions which have been working for decades to provide food, shelter, clothing, first aid, legal orientations and referrals for asylum seekers. As the need grows, so too do the number of churches and groups who are joining their hands, hearts and voices to expand the places of welcome and to meet Christ in the faces of these sojourners.  

In the fall of 2014, PDA re-instated a grant making opportunity for local church initiatives through Presbyteries and Synods. As part of PDA’s ongoing support of these initiatives, we have awarded grants to support specific needs. These grants have largely fallen within three overarching categories: advocacy, humanitarian aid, and legal services. Initially we received applications from organizations providing basic humanitarian aid such as housing, food, clothing, first aid and transportation. At the same time, in part due to greater focus on changes in immigration policies, there has been an increase in requests related to advocacy and legal services. And it is not unusual to find a local church or coalition embracing both a commitment to direct services and advocacy for changes in our public policies.

The models for how we, as people of faith, support and accompany asylum seekers have evolved over time, but the commitment remains the same: to welcome those who are made vulnerable by their home country’s internal conflict or marginalized by its laws.


How can you be involved?

  1. Organize a volunteer trip to the border or join a detention visitation program
  2. Volunteer locally with a coalition or non-profit organization
  3. Advocate for humane asylum policies
  4. Donate to DR000095: Refugee Emergencies in the U.S. to support our grantmaking to Presbyterian initiatives. 


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