A Profound Moment of Welcome at the Border

I had read stories in the news about caravans and migrants and their journey to the United States. I had heard secondhand of the experiences of many migrants at the border.

Then I saw it for myself.

On a trip to El Paso, Texas with Preemptive Love, to learn more about asylum seekers and to meet with local aid organizations, I saw firsthand what people endured. One thing stuck out to me above all else: these men, women, and children are not simply leaving their homes as they seek safety and security in the US. They are walking into the unknown, with no idea if they will be welcomed.

They’ve heard the horror stories of children taken away, of sickness and extreme cold or heat in concrete-floored cages, of deportation, long-term detainment, or even death. They’ve heard the racial slurs from Mexicans along the journey and from Americans on social media and in the news.

Yet they’ve come to the border, surrendering their control, to be led away to a place they don’t know, by an armed guard they can’t predict, without so much as a phone call available, awaiting a fate they can’t foresee to be determined by an impersonal legal system they often don’t understand.

For 3 days minimum, they are detained in cave-like rooms under ICE supervision. They are fed cold burritos for breakfast. They are transferred, interviewed, shoelaces and personal effects taken, and interviewed again.

Husbands and wives often separated. Sometimes the children are as well.

Related: Love Anyway Podcast: Bonus Episode: Border Response

Then, those who are lucky or who have done everything right—or both—are given a court date without explanation, loaded on to an old bus with 40-100 other asylum seekers, driven to facilities in El Paso or New Mexico, and dropped off.

There they file into a new building. They are quiet, meek, hesitant, unsure where they are. They stand in a hall single- file or line the walls of a foyer. Hungry, thirsty, and weak, the young children don’t even cry—most of them sleep in their parents’ arms.

A welcoming packet at the shelter, along with a coloring page for kids. Photo by William Price / Preemptive Love

Then a volunteer greets them in Spanish. Welcoming them to the shelter. Welcoming them to the US. “Bienvenido! Dios te bendiga!” The volunteer explains, “You are no longer in US law enforcement custody. You may leave here any time you like. We have food for you, beds, water, clothing, and phones. You can stay here for up to three days as you make travel arrangements. We are here to help.”

It is a profound moment of welcoming.

Shoulders drop. Faces relax. Heads rise, eyes looking around.. “Gracias,” they mutter… or shout. Smiles slowly form.

Usually the bus arrives full of people who have not eaten for hours. Some want showers right away, but most head straight to lunch. At one shelter, the volunteers always ask if a guest would like to bless the meal. Without fail, one or two asylum seekers agree and stand.

Related: Refugees, Migrants, and Asylum Seekers: Three Reasons People Flee Home

They pray differently, but always the same prayer—a remembrance of the journey, the walking, the danger, the traumas. They pray with thanks that God was with them along the way. They thank God that the journey is ending. That they have arrived.

This prayer, at what must be one of the hungriest moments of their life, is never rushed. They carry on in thanksgiving, with tears. They ask for blessings for their families back home and in the US. For fellow travelers. For good samaritans and volunteers along the way and here with them now. For those who donated food and clothing. They bless the food and hold a moment of silence. Then they eat.

The kids eat fast and fierce and suddenly, they are running through the halls. They play soccer, cards, or dominoes. Little girls begin feeding toy bottles to donated baby dolls. The parents pick out new shoes or take packs of shoelaces to re-lace the shoes they are all wearing. The shelter fills with energy, with joy, with laughter, and relief.

A room full of donated clothing for asylum seekers to pick through. Photo by William Price / Preemptive Love

They sleep deeply that night—their first safe sleep in weeks. As they begin making their arrangements to friends or family in the US, they are coached on the travel systems of the US and given placards to use if they need help communicating along the way with transfers or cancelations. If the shelter is well-resourced, the families are sent with a pack of snacks and toiletries.

These families are welcomed. They are cared for and helped. They are seen not as asylum seekers but as people—worthy of a good meal, a place to rest, and someone to look them in the eye and offer help.

Our friends in El Paso have been doing this more or less on their own. They’ve been showing up for months for these families, welcoming them. Serving them. Providing for them. They’ve changed sheets on beds and cooked up meals. They’ve bought toys for kids and spent hours helping families with travel plans.

But they are rapidly running out of resources. They need people to come alongside them, to help provide resources to meet the needs of these families.

This is where you come in. This is where you can be a part of this incredible welcome, right from where you are.

$40 provides a backpack full of essential supplies —underwear, toiletries, snacks, and more. Crucial items for families that lost almost everything.

Our goal is to rush 10,000 emergency backpacks with essential supplies. We’re partnering with local friends who’ve been serving these families for months. Their resources are critically low, and more families are coming.

We can welcome those who flee. We can be the people who love anyway. Join us.