I never imagined that I would wind up on the US, Mexican border, but there I was, smack dab in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. I mentioned in an article that I wrote last Monday (you can read that here) that I had no desire for another project to take on. I’m the pastor of a healthy, growing church in Northeast Atlanta. What in the world was the Lord thinking when He told me to go south and then provided the introduction to a few folks that paved the way for me to be on the border last Friday.
Before I get started, please know that I have no bias in leaning left or right. I am not an ambassador for anyone other than my Creator. I care about policy, but I care far more about the people serving faithfully in our Border Patrol and for the people that are stuck in the middle somewhere between leaving their homes and entering the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
BE SURE TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE!
Here is what I saw firsthand:
- I drank from the same “toilet” that Democrat Presidential hopeful, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did. It’s not a toilet. It’s a banos-or restroom in Spanish. There is hot water and there is cold water and in the restroom – separately from the toilet, much like your “banos” is fresh, potable water. I drank the water from the very same banos AOC drank from. Shame on her for having reported that people were drinking from toilets. I spoke with the Border Patrol Chief that accompanied her on her tour. He clarified and showed her the very unit and yet it was much more politically expedient to claim that folks awaiting processing or release were drinking toilet water. Shame on her and the media that went along with that story!
- I saw fresh, cold water available everywhere I turned. I drank from at least a dozen coolers without any problems. And before you get fired up, no! No, there was not a cleaned up version for the tour I was on. I waited my turn for water with migrants from Cuba, Venezuela, El Salvador and Guatemala.
- The very first thing that I noticed were the restrooms. The majority of the restrooms are porta-potties. I know that sounds gross, but they are all vented well. Most of them are indoors. When I walked into these portable bathrooms they were like brand new. They are serviced everyday and completely disinfected everyday. They truly were spotless.
- In the centers that I visited, you could see the aftermath of the massive migration of immigrants. Make no mistake, these centers, the same centers that have been in the news, have indeed been overcrowded and undermanned. The men and women of the US Customs and Border Patrol were hired and trained to secure and protect the borders. They have never been equipped either in their training or in their facilities to care for Unaccompanied Children or thousands of people each day,
- The Chief of the Border Patrol at each station I visited have lead their people with compassionate care and rapid flexibility to make the individuals and families as comfortable as possible. I got on the ground, next to families awaiting departure. I used the same memory foam sleeping pad and the same silver blanket that they had. The survival blanket is a luxury. You might have previously asked, why a survival blanket when it’s 110 degrees outside? Well, I asked that as well. The law requires that the Border Patrol maintain a temperature of 68-74 degrees inside the facility. If you had spent weeks in the blazing sun to get to the border, you’d be cold once inside the air conditioning of the massive facility that has been erected for you. You’d want one of those blankets.
- There are now three meals catered in for every person, every day, detained and awaiting release. There are three snacks available and small snack items available at every facility.
- Every person that comes through the process, regardless of how they crossed the border are given a fresh shower, new clothes that they keep and while they are showering and dressing, their clothes are washed and returned to them. They receive new flip-flops, socks, t-shirts, shorts and sweatpants. They are provided individual toiletries, including soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, brush or comb, deodorant, and feminine hygiene. By the way, the showers have all been upgraded and enlarged. In the centers that I toured on the Texas/Mexico border the facilities were created with four showers, they have all been upgraded to either sixteen or twenty showers, separated by gender. I’ve showered in far worse conditions in hotels and youth camps.
- Families are processed much faster than individuals. I was in a center that still had more than 150 people (families) and I witnessed the separation of men on one side and mothers with children on the other side. They are separated to protect the women and children from any harm, but there is no fencing or physical barrier that separated them. Dads are only 50 feet from their wives and kids and yes, there is an armed Border Patrol agent in each room. When I say room, I mean a massive tent that is set up for 125 people. Three weeks ago, there were 400 people in the tent. I guarantee you that it was overcrowded, but is was far better than being outside. They say that it’s hot but it’s dry. I say, so is an oven!
- Most folks are processed and released with a date to appear within 24-36 hours. And when I say released, most are released onto US soil. Sometimes at the center and sometimes via bus to somewhere that they have relatives or opportunities. Their date and place to appear is relative to their location.
- Since January, 2019 the three centers that I visited have processed more than 144,000 immigrants. They were built to accommodate 4500 in that same time period. There is indeed a humanitarian crisis on our Southern Border and Border Patrol are the first people to assure you of that. Three weeks prior to my visit, these centers were overwhelmed and in the midst of implementing all the changes that I saw. Were the centers over crowded, undermanned, underfunded and at crisis levels? You bet they were, and very well might be again. But I saw first hand how rapidly the Border Patrol has implanted significant changes to make this crisis far less painful.
I’ll write more in tomorrow’s article, but let me make a few observations of my visit last week.
- The tariffs and the present administration have negotiated 5,000 Mexican troops on their Southern Border. That had lessened the pace of the immigrants from the South American countries which make up about 65% of the present immigrant requests. Nobody believes that is sustainable. As a result, our Border Patrol Centers are still prepping for another massive wave the balance of this year. They have added thousands and thousands of square feet, all air conditioned space. They have created Costco-like space with food and beverage service in mass quantities. They have added 24-7 medical care and in the Unaccompanied Children’s Center, they have added social workers and supervised play-times with qualified people.
- The Migrant Protection Plan is slowing the flood of people into these centers, but that is not presently sustainable. It most likely will help, but will require millions of dollars to help create sustainable short-term housing on the Mexican side of the border.
- The overcrowding creates a media circus and granstanding from either side of the aisle doen’t help. It’s creating a hightened sense of fear in the people seeking a new home and it’s hurting the work of the Border Agents. Most of the men and women I personally spoke with were 10-25 year veterans of the Border Patrol. They all were quick to tell me that a month ago things were horrific and that they will most likely be that way again. But this time, they are far better prepared for the onslaught.
- The Church is the single best way to care for these folks on both sides of the border. I’ll outline more in tomorrow’s article.
- Children are only separated from adults when, a) they arrive with a bio-metric proven person of criminal history, b) if the child is sick, where they are placed into a medical ward with 24-7 care until well, c) they arrive alone because mother or parents are sold into human or sex trafficking. By the way, did you know that the Cartel’s own most of the Southern Mexico Border and that everyone pays to cross and tens of thousands of folks are paying with their very lives to get their kids away from the likes of South American dictators and oppressive governments? Many of these folks, especially from South America and Cuba are professionals, or with labor skills.
I’ll wrap up for today, but there is so much that I learned. I’ll be returning to the McAllen Border Center (where Vice President Pence was last week) next month. I’ve been invited to participate in a partnership for serving and caring for the immigrant families and the Border Patrol across the entire Southern Border. I’m praying about that and about how the faith based community can serve the immigrants and especially the unaccompanied Children.
This is a long view effort and will require the help of multiple organizations. I’m still not certain what part I am to play, but I am certain that we (the church) must step up to meet this crisis face to face, hand in hand and hearts without political motivation, but rather, salt and light directives.
We all are part of the problem and can be part of the solution. I know you think that was a typo. You’re probably thinking, “Chuck, I don’t have anything to do with those folks on the border.” Well, actually you do. You can vote your convictions, share those convictions boldly with your congressional leader, your local governments, pastors and priests. But please do not hide from this or turn your heart from these folks.
Thanks for your prayers and for your continued prayers for my ongoing conversations and visits. Join me again tomorrow for what I believe are some very tangible ways to help improve the challenges ahead on the Southern Border.
Go in Peace,