Deaconess Cindy Andrade Johnson cares for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. She reports on their resiliency and hopes as a new administration comes to Washington.
KATHY L. GILBERT
Thousands of migrants are pinning their hopes on the incoming Biden administration to help move them forward in their quest for lives of dignity and safety in the United States. They are writing the president-elect to remind him of his promises.
President-elect Joe Biden has said he will set the annual refugee cap at 125,000. He has pledged to raise it over time.
Cindy Andrade Johnson, a United Methodist deaconess in Brownsville, Texas, has been the “bridge” linking hundreds of migrants to generous United Methodists around the country. At the same time, they live in deplorable conditions under the Matamoros Bridge in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
At one point, 2,500 were living in the tent city, which grew after the creation of the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico.” That policy, one of several issued by the administration of President Donald Trump to discourage or curb immigration, forced migrants seeking asylum to wait outside the borders of the U.S.
Some of those living in the camp were able to get jobs in Mexico and have pooled their money to move into apartments. Johnson said the almost 1,000 still living in the camp are the poorest of the poor, including 300 children.
In addition to the remain in Mexico policy, President Donald Trump pledged to build a wall along the entire Southern U.S. border. He capped the number of refugees admitted into the United States at 15,000 for 2021, a historic low.
The camp has remained clear of COVID-19, but some who were sick were deported before they reached the camp, she said, adding that COVID-19 is also being used as an excuse to shut the process down.
The migrants started a writing campaign to Biden before the election. Since the election, they have sent more postcards congratulating him and asking him not to forget them. They plead with him to keep his promises.
“May God, the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit … lead you to keep your promises, among them restoring the dignity of human beings to those of us who have fled bloody dictatorships,” one migrant wrote.
Johnson said she talks to them about getting attorneys and sponsors. “They have to do the work. I tell them, ‘You have been here over a year; not having an attorney is not acceptable.’”
The tents they live in have no electricity and are not good shelters against the cold in the winter and the punishing heat in the summer. Hurricane Hanna hit the region last summer, soaking all their belongings. But they are resilient, Johnson said.
“They have two migrant schools where they are teaching English,” she said. “They have built small kitchens and the food they cook is really good!”
The donations of medicine, blankets, and other supplies that come in are great, but the best thing to do is advocate for justice, Johnson said.
“Compassion is good, but if it doesn’t include any justice, it is not going to help these people.”
Everyone deserves access to justice, to be treated with dignity, and families belong together, said Rob Rutland-Brown, director of National Justice for Our Neighbors, a free legal service offered through The United Methodist Church.
“It will take time and hard work to undo the damage that has been inflicted to our immigration system over the past four years,” he said. “The long-term changes we need to make as a country to fully address our flawed immigration system cannot be fixed by a president alone.”
President-elect Biden has pledged to reverse this immigration policy, said United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño, director of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force and episcopal leader of the California-Nevada Conference.
“I hope and pray that we will not become like those who callously turn a blind eye to the people seeking asylum at the Southern border living in encampments in the harsh cold of winter,” Carcaño said.
She pointed to the misery caused by current policies, such as the 600 migrant children who have yet to be reunited with their families and “wasteful funding” to build the Southern wall.
Johnson said she wants United Methodists to advocate for a just system. She encourages people to be on the lookout for migrants in their area, shelter them or be sponsors.
“If you see something that is not right, contact your senators and representatives,” she said. “People have died because we are so compassionate but didn’t give them the justice, the rights they deserve as human beings.”
“There are wonderful groups doing wonderful things,” Johnson said, though she downplays her own efforts: “All I do is just open my mouth.”