MCALLEN, RGV – Following a visit to the Rio Grande Valley faith leaders and clergy from across Texas are now heading to Washington, D.C., to advocate for a change in immigration policy.

More than 100 members of numerous religious denominations spent two days in the Valley recently. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting with asylum seekers in Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. The asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, are hoping to start a new life in the United States.

The two-day trip was organized by the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

Texas Impact Executive Director Bee Moorhead said the purpose of the visit was to equip clergy to influence public policy on immigration. 

“The characterization ‘humanitarian crisis’ masks the reality that It’s actually a crisis of congressional leadership. Congress makes the laws and spending priorities for our nation,” Moorhead said. 

“Of course, faith communities are heartbroken when they see pictures of dead parents and hear recordings of wailing infants. Our job is to help them advocate from their heads as well as their hearts. As long as faith communities focus on humanitarian response at the expenses of policy advocacy, Congress gets a free pass and the Administration co-opts charity to enable its cruelty.”

The two-day Valley trip and sponsored by U.S. Christian Leadership Organization, North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, North Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, San Antonio Regional Justice for Our Neighbors, and American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

France Knipp’s Review

Frances Knipp

Frances Knipp participated in the Valley tour. She hails from Louisiana but now lives in Dallas. 

“I cannot speak for the whole group but I think the purpose (of the visit) is to bring a moral voice to this issue, the immigration crisis and how we treat the children of God,” Knipp told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We live far away from the border. Dallas is an eight hour drive and so we needed to come here and see and witness. Some of it is witnessing, some of it is praying for the people. Some of it is meeting other people who care and want to help.” 

Knipp said the faith leaders spent time being briefed by attorneys who work with asylum seekers. They also prayed a lot and walked across the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville. 

“Today we walked across the bridge into Matamoros and broke up into small groups and talked with people who are there who are seeking asylum. We had a Spanish speaker with each group to translate. I was one of the translators,” Knipp said.

“All of the people who we met were from El Salvador and Honduras. They were generally young and there were many children, and they have been here some for weeks and they have dates before a judge. We asked them how long it took to get here and they said two and a half months, and it was very dangerous.”

Knipp said people want to sell the asylum seekers things on the trek north but they do not have money. 

“People from the U.S. bring food in the afternoon and people from Mexico bring food in the morning. They said their children are bathing in the river and they are getting sick.”

Asked why the Central Americans are heading to the United States, Knipp said for some it is about economics and for others it is for safety.

 “They said we are fleeing violence and also there is no work, so it is economic and safety. They kept saying they want to come to the U.S. and work,” Knipp said.

“They were remarkably positive. Some became very serious and sad when we prayed for them and when we said we were sorry for what they are experiencing. They wanted to ask us questions about the legal system. We are not lawyers and it is confusing for everyone. Others in the group said they talked to people and they seemed defeated.”

Knipp said she was “extremely heartened” to see many pastors willing to take time to help the asylum seekers. She said the congregations are helping also. 

“I am very heartened by that and that we have a community and we can stay in touch and we can work together to hopefully affect change,” Knipp said.

“There are youth groups who are already coming down and providing food and teaching our youth about the border. There is a lot of power in witnessing first hand, and that cuts across the political spectrum. Especially in this age when people are not sure what to trust.”

Knipp said she will go back to her community in Dallas and talk to friends who are not members of her church.

“I have a lot of friends who not Christian but they are very interested in this topic and I am very interested in going back and talking to them.”

Asked what her message will be, Knipp said: “That we need to speak out and advocate. That we get the government we ask for and that we vote for. That we need to speak out and we need more people come out and actually see what is happening. It is not a war zone at the border. I think people were very concerned when I was coming. I had friends who were concerned for my safety.”

Knipp said she did not find the border region dangerous. “I have not found this to be true. It is easy and simple to get to McAllen. It is far. I am a mom. I have two kids. I just wore the clothes I wear to pick up and drop off every day. I walked across the border and talked to people.”

Knipp said her visit has been a moving experience.

“They are really just people, most of them younger than me and they just want to work and be safe like the rest of us and be productive members of society. They cannot do that where they are and that is a tragedy but we just need a way for people to come here and work and maybe go home if they want. We move products back and forth all the time. People should be able to come across and work like they used to. And then go home. They would probably like to, if it were safe.”

Editor’s Note: Rio Grande Guardian reporter Patricia Martinez and Rio Grande Guardian presenter Mario Muñoz contributed to this feature.

Editor’s Note: The above feature is the second in a two-part series on the recent trip to the Rio Grande Valley by Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy-affiliated groups. Click here to read and listen to part one, which features Brownsville community leader Michael Seifert.