Last week World Relief Sacramento’s Office Director, Kerry Ham, visited asylum seekers at the United States-Mexico border. He and pastors from Vida Church Sacramento and Bayside Church Folsom saw firsthand the work of World Relief and heard stories from those who have fled in hope of safety and refuge in the US. Ham reflects on some of the stories he heard and the current situation below:
In the afternoon, I found myself on the US side of Friendship Park, first inaugurated by Pat Nixon in 1971. Over the next two decades, the border was marked primarily by a marble obelisk known as Monument #258. In 1994, things began to change, however, starting with the construction of one wall. Today, the border consists of two walls and a 20-foot space only available from the American side for a few hours on weekends. Separated families reunite at the wall where they can touch fingertips.
I reflected on everything I had seen that day and everyone I had met. That morning, we crossed the border and came upon a plaza full of migrants. Many waited in a line for a number that would not be called for months. Some were returning to see if today was the day they would be able to plead their case. In this scene of total limbo, I met Miguel. Miguel and his family left their home after he was shot by members of a local gang. In his hometown, he was a business owner, but he could not pay the shakedown money required by gangs controlling the city. He, his, wife, and their four children had been in Tijuana for three months now. Between the six of them, they had only two suitcases. His oldest daughter carried the baby, and his wife held one of the suitcases. As Miguel showed me his bullet scars and described his situation, he broke down…and so did I.
Our group visited a shelter where I met Esma and Gabi, who told of their journey north after their husbands had been killed. The “shelter” was a semi-open roofed structure with a few walls and was similar in square footage to my house. Instead of furniture, it was filled with 48 tents and 117 women and children.
We visited another group seeking shelter, in this case living in a “tent city” located in a park. Dozens of tents housed deported US Military veterans, many of whom had completed combat tours. They fought with the US military with the promise of citizenship. Many returned with the effects of war only to be deported. It was shocking to me. I spoke with a man named Roberto who had been deported several months prior. He had no place to go. He came to the United States when he was seven and had lived there for twenty years before being separated from his wife and their four children, all of them US citizens. He could not quite finish telling his story before he began to sob.
After we prayed for Roberto, I looked to the North. Just over the wall was San Diego, a city shining by the sea complete with sailboats in the harbor. The image was a stark contrast to the makeshift shelters and crowded plaza. In less than a day, what I had known to be conceptually true became utterly concrete: we are in the midst of a full-blown, humanitarian, refugee crisis. There were internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing violence. There were refugees who had been forced to cross international borders as well as those seeking asylum in a safe country. Thousands of people in limbo who had lost loved ones along the way, who could not return home without facing death.
The US government is not allowing them to go through legal asylum channels. Individuals like Miguel and Roberto have little hope. This refugee crisis is not happening across oceans or in other continents. Many have made long, perilous journeys. And now, they wait. They can see where they want to go. San Diego, that beautiful, American city is within sight. So close, but so untouchable.
At the national level, World Relief continues to affirm its call for bipartisan immigrant reforms. In a recent press release, World Relief’s VP of Policy and Advocacy, Jenny Yang said, “The U.S. can be both secure and compassionate…It is entirely right that our government invest in smart border security, restricting anyone who would harm our country while also keeping the U.S. open to those who qualify under our laws to enter including those with a credible fear of persecution.”
At the local level, World Relief Sacramento’s Immigration Legal Services team continues to serve clients on their path to citizenship. Join us as we support our immigrant neighbors and learn more about volunteer opportunities with our Immigration Legal Services.