New Mexico Baptists aid asylum seekers

  |  Source: Baptist Press

New Mexico Baptist Disaster Relief Volunteers prepare food for migrants from Central and South America staying at an Albuquerque-area motel. ( Photo)

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)—The Baptist Convention of New Mexico and other faith-based organizations in Albuquerque are helping to house and feed more than 400 asylum-seeking migrants from South and Central America at the request of municipal and federal agencies.

“This is a different kind of response for us,” said Ira Shelton, director of New Mexico Baptist disaster relief.

However, Shelton noted the teachings of Jesus recorded in Matthew 25:31-46 and his call for his followers to care for “the least of these” means that “we need to be helping these people.”

“They’re hungry, and they’re confused,” Shelton said. “If we can bring hope, help and healing, then that’s what we need to do.”

Over the past several weeks, hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants have entered the United States along the El Paso sector of the country’s border with Mexico. In addition to El Paso, the sector includes New Mexico’s entire southern border.

As of March 27, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had more than 12,000 migrants in custody.

El Paso facility reached capacity

Because of the large number of people crossing the border in El Paso, Annunciation House, a Catholic ministry that serves migrant and homeless communities in the border city, quickly reached capacity. As a result, many migrants have been transported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Albuquerque, where city leaders are working with several nonprofit organizations to meet migrants’ day-to-day needs.

As of early April, Albuquerque was hosting 430 asylum-seeking migrants who entered the United States through the El Paso sector, said Roger Ebner, director of Albuquerque’s Emergency Management Office.

Medical personnel, city leaders and nonprofit organizations in Albuquerque agreed to work together to provide the migrants with medical care, temporary housing, food, clothing and transportation, said Ed Greene, associate director for New Mexico Baptist disaster relief.

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Baptists provide meals for migrants

From March 14-19, 12 Baptist volunteers, including Greene and Shelton, prepared hot meals and nonperishable lunches for several of the migrants who are staying in Albuquerque-area motels as they await further processing.

New Mexico Baptist volunteers also prepared nonperishable sack lunches for distribution to migrants who were traveling from Albuquerque to other parts of the United States where they have immigration sponsors, said Cricket Pairett, ministry assistant for the New Mexico Baptist Missions Mobilization Team. Food in the sack lunches, she said, had to be able to withstand several days of travel and varied temperatures.

As of March 26, the Baptist convention team had prepared approximately 320 meals in all and logged 193 volunteer hours.

Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, which has a commercial grade kitchen, allowed New Mexico Baptist disaster relief to use its space to prepare meals. Garland Peek, Sandia’s minister to adults, helped coordinate the operation on behalf of the church.

Three additional New Mexico Baptist churches expressed interest in providing meals and other resources. Joseph Bunce, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, said churches can supply volunteers to help as cooks and servers, provided they adhere to strict food preparation guidelines.

At least one disaster relief volunteer declined to participate in the ministry to asylum-seeking migrants, citing political differences, Shelton said.

It is unclear how long the migrants will be in Albuquerque or whether more will arrive in the coming weeks. Ebner, of the city’s Emergency Management Office, said, “There may be an ebb and flow to this, so I think this will continue into the future. But I believe there will be a decrease at some point. … We need to be as ready as possible and then be as flexible as possible.”

Ebner commended faith-based groups and volunteer medical personnel for meeting migrants’ needs.

“The Baptists have done a tremendous work here. Every organization appreciates the work they have done,” he said.

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