Matthew 25:31-46 exhorts Christians to care for “the least of these.” Certainly under any but the most perverse and self-serving interpretation of the New Testament, this would include immigrant children on the border, some detained in horrific conditions unworthy of American ideals and values, others benefiting from nonprofits clearly overburdened as they seek to address a humanitarian crisis on the border.
Today we’re locked in a struggle for the very heart of America as an allegedly “Christian” nation, a struggle that Fourth of July festivities only briefly sidelined. As a follower of Christ, as a fiscally conservative, decidedly capitalist businesswoman who runs a restaurant in Waco, I went to the border with supplies donated by a broad cross-section of Central Texans. I took money for the things we forgot. I did not travel as a representative of any political party or political entity, though I am regularly identified with one party. I traveled as a grandma.
What I witnessed was nothing short of a miracle. What I saw reaffirms my feeling that all politics, all struggles, all strife between all factions is fundamentally a local issue. It is played out on a state and national stage, to be sure, but the roots of goodness and charity begin at home. Our national institutions and controversies only reflect who we really are.
A friend connected me with the Holding Institute’s Community Center in the Texas border town of Laredo (and, for the record, the center’s name honors missionary Nannie Emory Holding). Operating in a covenant relationship with the United Methodist Women and in collaboration with community partners two blocks from the Rio Grande and the International Bridge, the facility covers a full city block. Its mission: responding to “the needs of women, children, youth and families, to encourage health and wellness, to empower education, to improve community and to invite discipleship.” As with so many buildings in the borderland, its exterior is plain. The interior, however, is more like a patio, plaza or garden. Cots are placed in the shade of huge trees. People napped or played with little ones. Folks washed clothes in a big tub and stretched them on fences to dry.
Several young men came to the car to help haul supplies to the community center’s great room. It was Sunday. The diaper supply was terribly short. Only newborns and little ones had a chance of getting changes. Toddlers ran about with full diapers and empty bottles. Still, the only time they cried was when they lost sight of Mom or Dad. Volunteers helped get people connected with relatives who already live in the region as they await immigration court hearings. Meanwhile, McLennan Countians provided nourishment for empty stomachs and diapers to stave off diaper rash.
Given the enormous need for relief, the center has expanded in recent months to include a Red Cross humanitarian aid center. They care for asylum-seekers who are being legally processed and have been released into the Laredo community. Some regional groups have been doing such relief work for years, including Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, led by Sister Norma Pimentel. In the five years their center has temporarily housed people in the McAllen area, she says they have never called law enforcement for any issues. More than 100,000 have come through this nonprofit’s doors.
People of Texas border towns are doing what they can to help detained children. The Laredo evening news told of local doctors and nurses begging federally run detention centers to allow them to come and serve children there. And the Boy Scouts were the first to show up at the Holding Institute’s center with a pickup full of diapers. Denominational lines are crossed as Methodists work with Baptists who in turn work with Catholics to ease the suffering of immigrant children. Valley folks are addressing this crisis with the passion others devoted to rescuing fellow Texans after coastal flooding a few years ago.
In the wake of so much controversy over immigration, I informally polled people from Central Texas to the Texas borderland. All recognized the innocence of these children. Not a single person I talked with — Democrat or Republican, believer, atheist or agnostic — picked his or her parents. None of the children in for-profit detention centers picked theirs. In short, there’s no politically sound reason to incarcerate children and separate them from their parents or caregivers, particularly when they’re placed in conditions as deplorable as these children endure.
There are stories of guys like David, a nurse practitioner who once worked at the U.S. Customs & Border Protection intake center in McAllen. Besides blood pressure and general physical exams, he examined bruised and swollen feet of immigrants who traveled as far as 1,000 miles through Central America to reach the promised land. His job: patching up folks as best he could when they shuffled into the custody of border patrol agents.
Several weeks ago a guard asked David to take a look at a child. Screaming, crying, disturbing the others, the boy simply had to be seen. The guard carried the little boy, probably not more than 3 years old, to the intake center. His feet were a mess. He had come in with wet feet. Per policy, guards removed the shoelaces from his shoes. The shoes and socks dried onto his feet. Days later, as they tried to take the shoes off, the child screamed. They had to cut the shoes and socks off in stages. The child’s feet were blistered and had become infected. His toes showed early signs of tissue death.
David finally got the boy’s tiny feet cleaned and doctored as best he could. He recommended the child be taken off-site for medical treatment.
That child’s feet reportedly will heal quickly. But the scars on his spirit will take a lifetime to mend.
I saw a poster the other day. It said, “Don’t look away.” We cannot look away in Laredo, McAllen or El Paso, but we shouldn’t look away in Waco. Up and down the Rio Grande, for those putting Christian principles into driven practice, a place and purpose exists for you, your faith and your organization. Here are places where you can donate funds to help children on the borderland:
- Holding Community Center, 1102 Santa Maria, Laredo, TX 78040. Phone: 956-718-2070.
- Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, 700 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd., San Juan, TX 78589. Phone: 956-702-4088.