Source: John Englart (Takver)/Flickr CC-by-SA

During a recent academic conference in San Diego, we traveled to Tijuana to see the work being done to assist asylum seekers who are asking to enter the United States. What we saw revealed the giving spirit of many Mexican people without the level of resources that many in the United States possess.

We were invited and welcomed to join a local pastoral conference aimed at encouraging local leaders to become even more engaged in assisting migrants at the border from a range of countries in Latin American and increasingly from Ukraine and Russia. Pastoral leaders described such assistance as their responsibility as followers of Christ.

We accompanied one of the pastors and his son on his rounds delivering food and supplies to multiple migrant shelters. Our first stop was to the pastor’s modest church campus, which currently hosts 42 Haitians. We met several Haitian children who speak little Spanish and are trying to adjust to a new situation in this Spanish-speaking border town. Despite language barriers and adjusting to a new environment, the Haitian children and adults who we met smiled and laughed during our brief encounter. They clearly felt safe and cared for by the pastor. 

Next the pastor and his son took us to a relatively new Ukrainian refugee camp where they had been delivering supplies for the past few weeks. The pastor explained that he often will get up at 4 a.m. to help make breakfast for these migrants. While visiting, the pastor was encouraged to try some of the Ukrainian cuisine. He happily partook, tipping the bowl back to drink the last bit of soup. The exchange was evidence of the same comfort and care shared between the pastor and this migrant community.  

Finally, we saw one of the shelters that was primarily hosting asylum seekers from Central America. They often have a greater difficulty being able to obtain asylum than their Ukrainian counterparts. There were several shelters across the city that housed these individuals. When we entered the shelter, the children flocked toward the pastor. He started a gleeful chant and the children repeated with him. As we were leaving, the pastor and children repeated this familiar ritual.

As the pastor was driving us back to the U.S.-Mexico border, he explained that he and the other community pastoral leaders also are assisting some Russian families who are staying in hotels in the city and have a much steeper hill to climb to obtain asylum, even though they are fleeing the same government as the Ukrainians.

These migrants from around the globe are at the border due to restrictive U.S. policies, such as the directives for asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their applications are being processed and pandemic-related rules to block entry, which make the asylum process much more tedious for entering the United States. The Biden Administration currently is seeking to eliminate some of these unjust barriers but is being met with large political backlash, including from many leaders in our own state. In fact, South Carolina is suing the Biden Administration to keep the Trump-era Title 42 COVID restrictions on immigration in place. 

The time has come for the United States to examine itself honestly when it comes to its stance on asylum seekers and refugees. Our plea to the American public and lawmakers is to allow people to come and be reunited with their families in the United States and live in relative peace and security. 

Unlike what many may believe, asylum seekers are not receiving massive government benefits, so the fear that they are draining our economic system is largely fabricated. To be anti-immigrant in a nation with one of the lowest population densities, a massive labor shortage and a strong infrastructure capable of accepting more migrants is not only counterproductive but cruel. If Mexican citizens with a fraction of the capacity and resources to accept refugees and asylum seekers can be open-handed and open-hearted, it is time for us to learn and follow this lead.

Beth Lloyd and Will McCorkle, both of Summerville, are education professors at a local college. She focuses on equity and accessibility within schooling. He focuses on rights for immigration students. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.


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