Border Town Churches Stand By to Minister to Immigrant Children

(David McNew/Getty)
(David McNew/Getty)

Some churches in Texas are frustrated because they want to help the flood of immigrant children that have crossed the border into America this year. But they’re still waiting to hear just how the federal government will use them.

Many churches in the Lone Star State, especially those on the border, have known for months about the tidal wave of immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Border Patrol agents have already detained more than 50,000 kids this year. Children as young as 6 years old are crossing on their own, spurred on in many cases by parents hoping they can escape chronic violence or poverty or both.

Most of the children come from three countries: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

At the annual meeting of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas this month, leaders from 1,100 congregations expressed concern for the safety and salvation of these children, as well as frustration over their lack of access.

Although Baptist leaders have worked with the Obama administration for weeks, they’ve not received any clear guidance as to what role churches will be able to play in ministering to the unaccompanied children.

Gus Reyes, director of the Christian Life Commission for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, says churches are ready to help now.

“We have an army of chaplains,” he told CBN News. “We have an army of disaster-relief trained people. We have an army of children’s ministers and leaders who have background checks who are ready to come. We have an army of medical physicians and nurses and dentists that are believers who are just ready to give their time.”

In the border town of McAllen, Pastor Chad Mason of Calvary Baptist Church works the phones daily trying to find ways to help the immigrant children and fielding calls from churches and individuals that want to help.

He knows first-hand of the need because many Border Patrol agents worship at his church and others in the community.

“They tell us the stories of kids that are in their care who are traumatized by what they’ve seen or are incredibly impoverished,” Mason told CBN News.

“And we wonder, ‘How are you dealing with that?’ because we know Border Patrol is not designed to be a childcare facility — they’re designed to be police officers,” he said.

With the current surge and resulting backlog, Border Patrol agents are detaining kids for as many as 14 days, a condition that human rights activists say is unacceptable.

By law, however, agents cannot quickly return unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America to their home countries. They must screen them as potential trafficking victims or refugees.

That process leaves thousands of kids stranded in Border Patrol stations for days and later in Health and Human Services facilities for possibly months.

“That’s what breaks our hearts,” Mason said. “We know that there’s a need and at this point we have no access to try and care for that need.”

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Heather Sells

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