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Immigration and Refugee Ministry Updates

w_5420_for-web.jpgDec 12, 2018:

Dear friends and colleagues: 

I know that many of you have been reading the updates from the border that we have been sending out, and I wanted to share just a few concluding remarks and recommendations.

Bishop Provenzano and I arrived home from San Diego on a redeye flight over the weekend, but before we left, we made sure to meet/speak with a number of the local faith leaders in order to get a clearer idea of how we in New York, and here in the EDLI in particular, can best support them.


For those of you who expressed your willingness and ability to travel to the border on a mission trip to serve others in this humanitarian crisis -- and/or for those of you who are leaders in your communities and wish to pass this information on to others -- there is a temporary shelter in San Diego that is helping these refugees and could use people-power. The property is a Catholic retreat facility where hundreds of families pass through each week.

In a nutshell, here is the nature of the work: the faith leaders and volunteers drive around the city and find refugees -- mostly women with young children -- who have been dropped off by I.C.E. at bus stops (at all hours), with no money, no food, no change of clothes, and wearing an ankle bracelet that needs to be charged every 8 hours. The volunteers bring them to the shelter where they can get a shower, food, clean clothes, and some TLC. Then, in 24-48 hours, they get on transportation (usually a bus) to their final destination. They give them a few things to travel with -- box lunches, some cash, diapers, a change of clothes, toiletries -- all of which are provided through donations made to local organizations.

The shelter is being overseen primarily by Kevin Malone, the Director of The San Diego Organizing Project (SDOP, which is their PICO/Faith In Action affiliate) and staff from Jewish Family Services of San Diego, with additional support from the ACLU and a few other groups. Apparently there are rooms available at the Roman Catholic Diocese's "Mother House" (I believe two twin beds per room), for housing volunteers traveling to the area, but I can provide more details in a conversation if you wish to pursue this.

However, there are three important things to know about this:

1) You should commit to at least two weeks. A shorter time than that is not as helpful, since it takes a few days to acclimate to the tasks needed, develop relationships with those on the ground, etc.

2) Obviously, the ability to speak Spanish is a huge plus. If you are monolingual, they will still find work for you to do, but obviously speaking both languages would be a tremendous help.

3) If you have special skills such as medical training/nursing, legal knowledge, etc., that would be great too. And again, a two-week commitment.

If you, or someone in your community, wishes to make this trip, please send me an email at with your dates of availability and your language and/or professional/personal skills. I will gather the names, let Kevin know how many folks are interested and what they have to offer, and we'll take it from there.


1) Volunteer in your local Rapid Response Networks (RRNs)

In the coming weeks, I will be talking/meeting/planning with the leaders in our various RRNs and trying to connect them with the RRNs in San Diego who are helping these refugees get to their final destinations.

It may surprise you, but very few of the folks from the "caravan" -- or those coming here individually to seek asylum -- are staying in San Diego or even in Southern California. Most are going to places all over the U.S. where they have family, friends, job prospects, etc. And many of them are headed to New York (the bus trip here takes 4-5 days).

Many folks here in our area are already welcoming these sojourners with love and generosity. My goal is to improve our "receiving ministry," so that we can be less "reactive," and be more "proactive:" to know ahead of time who's coming, when, what their needs will be, etc.

2) Donate money

As noted in my previous email, these organizations need financial help. Churches, other houses of worship, and local community groups have been putting their own money toward the cash, food, clothes, and other supplies that families need: both while they are at the shelter, and what they will need for their journey. You can give assistance to wherever you feel moved, but here again is the list of resources that my Episcopal colleague Mthr. Janine Schenone shared with me: (meeting people at the bus stations, helping at shelters). This group is overseen by SDOP.

- (Jewish Family Service, helping to run shelters and providing legal assistance along with ACLU).

- Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego (Travel Assistance Fund to help support families): www.

- Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, (money for travel funds, phone cards, underwear, jackets for children, etc., which is funneled immediately and directly to urgent requests coming from the shelters and front lines). Please put “refugee relief” in the comment line.

- Episcopal Relief & Development - Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting the work of the Anglican Church in Mexico to provide shelter, food, water and other basic needs to migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the United States:

For more information about other ways the Episcopal Church is involved on issues concerning immigration, visit the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations:

The words of encouragement, and offers to help, from so many of you have been a true blessing. When the Bishop and I were in Tijuana last week listening to the testimonies of the young mothers about their perilous journeys, and the dangers that they faced in their countries, I was overcome with emotion. The whole time, the Spirit kept whispering this phrase into my ear: "I am looking into the face of the Living God." Over these last few weeks I have been reminded of how that presence of God is among us in this diocese, and I am so grateful.

In solidarity and with Advent hope,


Update Dec 7, 2018:

Updates from Dec 6, 2018tijuana-border_sq.jpg


 Money -- Sending supplies won't work because the trucks full of supplies can't get through the Tijuana checkpoint. (Click here for more information about different organizations and funds set up to help asylees.)

The drive back into USA from Tijuana took almost three hours (to go about a mile or two). Security dogs searching cars, lanes closed, very slow checks. Many people commute to work or go to school, and need to go back and forth.

There were hundreds of people selling goods. Carts with food and souvenirs weaving in and out of cars, including small children: “permits” or “vendors’ licenses” are not necessarily government-issued. The local clergy told us that they are run by organized crime. There were also “pharmacy runners,” presumably bringing drugs (some prescription, some not) to those waiting in the cars: apparently they place their orders and the runners go and get them. 

The brokenness we saw is the kind that you imagine in Calcutta, or the stories that we read about in the Scriptures: where lepers, and people with all kinds of disabilities sit outside of the synagogues, unable to come in. 

Or the people lying on the mats, or those blind from birth, that have no one to carry or guide them down to the healing springs/baths. 

The Empire created some (but not all) of that misery back then, but we know for SURE that the powers and principalities of our time DID create these conditions. 

Further -- unlike our ancestors who could not treat leprocy or epilepsy or make things accessible -- we actually CAN heal and fix a lot of what's broken. But we don't.

"Maria" from Honduras:

She has a partner and 2 children in the U.S. Her mom got very sick, so she went back to see her in Honduras.

Her brothers were tellers/cashiers, and they were held up/assaulted many times. That job is terribly unsafe: extended family begged them to quit. They did for a while, but they didn’t have a choice. Jobs are scarce. 

One brother left the job, but it was hard, his wife was pregnant, so he returned. He was shot in the back, fleeing on his motorcycle. The killers then threatened the whole family. At his funeral, the family started planning their escape from the gangs, and made plans to flee. 

Maria sent her kids to the U.S. for school since they were born there (ages 7 and 8). And she stayed in Honduras. (She said gangs don’t respect children. They’ll kill the whole family.)

In their downtown one night, a man grabbed her from behind by the hair, and at gunpoint, he said “Are you (the-brother's-name)'s sister?” She denied that she was his sister. But the guy was going to kill her anyway. She said that God intervened. Suddenly there were sirens on the street (not for her, but for something else), and the gang member ran.  

She maintains that she was saved by divine intervention. She kept touching the back of her head and tugging at her hair, as if the muscle memory of the attack was still very much residing in her body.

"Taty" from Honduras:
She fled August 8th. Fleeing because her relatives were murdered two years ago and she and sister felt threatened. Her sister is in U.S. for a year and a half. “It was never my plan to come here, I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to. My biggest fear [about the United States] was that my mother came here 26 years ago and she ‘disappeared.’ But I knew I would be murdered back home. So I came in the caravan because I had no other choice.” She came with no documents.

On the journey, she was so afraid because “there were rumors that people were stealing children so I [like so many other mothers] slept with the children tied to my wrists.” (Her kids are a 12 year old boy , and a girl, 8). 

I (Mother Tatro) could feel both the male and the female clergy in the room stopped breathing for a moment, even those without children, as we all tried to imagine such a thing.

“I’m number 1,589” on the asylum list, said Taty. One number can have as many as 10 people in a group (a family or group traveling together).

Her sister is in KY, whose husband was murdered last year. 

The kids are relieved to not be walking anymore, with blistered feet, carrying things, etc. They are in a shelter, but her children are so much more at peace now that they are no longer moving, and tired and hungry constantly.

"Pedro" from Guatemala:

"The violence is my country is extreme, not safe — violence is a daily reality." He was shot in right leg in July, and is still trying recover. 

“There is deep Gov't corruption — Gov't not protecting the people. They allow violence; so, people take protection into their own hands. And that only makes more violence." 

He traveled for a month and a half. Sometimes by bus or other means. Came on his own, not part of the caravan. Had no money in his pocket. His wife is in the U.S. 


Casa del Migrante, Tijuana, A.C., is a shelter run by Fr. Patrick Murphy

Fr. Murphy briefed us on the men's shelter that he runs. He can keep residents for as long as 45 days, but often shorter if the men can find work. It was a sunny and optimistic physical environment, given the trauma that so many here have suffered.

They have, on site, a medical person, a psychiatrist, and two social workers to help the men with a "life plan." Many are there who have already been deported, and are now possibly filing asylum claims to stay in Mexico (seeking the "Mexican Dream," rather than the "American Dream.").

We then received emotional testimony (in Spanish with some translation) from one of the men in the shelter, and three of the women in a women's shelter a couple of blocks down the street.


Bishop Provenzano at the men's shelter, Casa del Migrante, in Tijuana

In order to be most helpful at the shelters, it is recommended that volunteers arrange to stay for at least two weeks. Getting acclimated and getting into the rhythm of what is needed takes time. 

Nurses and other professionals would be helpful, especially if  they are bilingual and can stay for at least two weeks.

Bilingual volunteers and money for the road. People need cash and food for the next leg of their trip into the U.S. 

Also urgently needed are local volunteers to escort families to airports (families from rural areas have never been inside airports, and are very confused about how to navigate: volunteers escort them right to the gates).  

Organizations assisting asylum seekers and accepting monetary donations: 

Rapid Response San Diego – A coalition of human rights and service organizations, attorneys, and community leaders dedicated to aiding immigrants and their families in the San Diego border region: and

Catholic Charities, Diocese of San Diego – Supporting the “Travel Assistance Fund” to help support families who need help with travel as they continue on their migrant journey:

Good Samaritan Episcopal Church - People can also donate directly to Mo. Schenone’s church. She writes, “We are using the money for travel funds, phone cards, underwear, jackets for children, you name it! Make sure they put “refugee relief” in the comment line. I am funneling it immediately and directly to the urgent requests coming from the shelters and front line.”:

Episcopal Relief & Development - Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting the work of the Anglican Church in Mexico to provide shelter, food, water and other basic needs to migrants from Central America seeking asylum in the United States:

For more information about other ways the Episcopal Church is involved on issues concerning immigration, visit the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations:

For those traveling to NYC or the NY area, it takes at least 4-5 days. Their first I.C.E. check-in could be just two weeks from when they leave San Diego. 

Immediate follow-up is needed.  The first court appearances from this date would likely be in January/February 2019. 

In the words of the volunteers and clergy working on this, "after their asylum application is 'processed,' I.C.E. has been dumping folks off at bus shelters, at all hours, with nothing but a Notice to Appear at I.C.E. or immigration court, and an ankle bracelet." 

Most of those who have been dumped have no cash, few belongings, are hungry and tired from months-long journeys, and many are with small children.

This network is providing temporary shelter, food, medical and spiritual care, and eventually some cash and food for those asylum-seekers whose applications have been processed. 

The network then helps with safe passage to their destination.  Most of the asylees do not stay in San Diego, but are making long journeys to locations where they have families and contacts all over the U.S.  

Some are taking buses, and a few trains or planes.  

Volunteers often escort them to their travel hub, and give them whatever cash, food, diapers, change of clothes, etc., they will need to get them to their destination. (They are required to provide I.C.E. with a name and address of the person who they will be with/watched by.)

An incredible chain of love and communication has been created by collaboration between and among those with PICU, ACLU, Jewish Family Service (JFS), Catholic Charities, and individuals from other faith communities. 

A very young woman from JFS -- a commanding and gentle leader -- seemed to be coordinating the meals and care for scores of families at this retreat center. They’ve moved over 1,600 people over the last 5 and 1/2 weeks (the flow is about 50-70/day).  Many of these asylum seekers were part of the (estimated 6,000) in the exodus "caravan," while some others were fleeing danger on their own.  The majority are from Central America.  

12/5/2018, 6:30 a.m. - Starting with San Diego County (then Tijuana, and back again)

A clergy meeting was convened/led by SDOP (San Diego Organizing Project) Executive Director Kevin Malone at a shelter in a Retreat Center in Imperial Beach owned and operated by the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. It is located along the border, just northwest of the heart of Tijuana. We were briefed on issue updates before the families sleeping in the retreat center were awake. (SDOP is the local affiliate of Faith in Action.)

Participants included Catholic Sisters from various orders, and priests and pastors from a number of denominations, which are locally based and providing care for those arriving through the border at Tijuana into San Diego.