Churches Take Action to Help Children at the Border As Leaders Debate

children at the border

Amid news of dangerous, unsanitary conditions at migrant detention facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, evangelical Christians are lending a hand while advocating for more humane treatment. Recent reports reveal that many children in the crowded facilities are hungry, unbathed, and sick. Older kids are trying to care for younger children, many of whom are unaccompanied by an adult.

In response, the U.S. government moved more than 300 children from a Border Patrol station near Clint, Texas, acknowledging, “Our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations, and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.” Since 2018, at least six migrant children have died in U.S. custody.

This week a photo of a migrant father and his toddler daughter lying dead along the Rio Grande River fanned passions, and the House passed a $4.5 billion emergency aid package to care for detained migrants. In response to questions about facility conditions, Vice President Mike Pence called them “heartbreaking” and “totally unacceptable.”

Churches Provide Aid to the Least of These 

For churches along the border, the crisis isn’t new. Carlos Navarro, senior pastor of West Brownsville Baptist Church in Texas, has ministered to migrants for 25 years. When other emergency shelters filled up this spring, Navarro and his congregants converted half of their building into a respite center. Migrant families who’ve been released by federal authorities receive physical and spiritual care at the church. In two months, they’ve served more than 1,600 people, Navarro tells the Baptist Press. “They are sending us the most vulnerable—moms and dads with children, and single moms with children.”

Without city funding, West Brownsville Baptist relies on grants and donations. Their needs range from Spanish Bibles and flip-flops to underwear and disinfectant. “We go through a bottle and a half of Lysol a day to keep things sanitary,” Navarro says.

Yesterday, Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, expressed gratitude for the churches and groups providing meals and compassion along the border. That “hands-on ministry…is what Southern Baptists are all about,” he says, urging all “Christ-followers to be the hands and feet of Christ to those in need.”

Other evangelical denominations also are taking an active stance, conducting advocacy work and meeting immigrants’ basic needs. The General Board of Global Ministries for the United Methodist Church has declared Sunday, June 30 as A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children. 

James Dobson Calls the Border “a human tragedy”

In his July newsletter, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson describes visiting the border for an “up close and personal” look. Touring a crowded holding area was “the most heart-wrenching experience,” he says, as detainees “stared out at us with plaintive eyes.” They weren’t interacting with one another, Dobson says, and “the children looked traumatized and frightened.”

The “few provisions” and “meager supplies” for children come from the Border Patrol budget, “which is stretched to the limit,” Dobson notes. He praises the compassionate, overwhelmed agents who are upholding the law and doing their best to cope with “a human tragedy.” Dobson concludes by saying the conditions he witnessed are “the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed.”

Border Comments Highlight Evangelical Divide

In a June 27 open letter to the Trump administration, the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) writes that it’s “deeply troubled by reports of inhumane conditions for children in the custody of the federal government.”

The letter states: “As evangelical Christians, we believe that all people—regardless of their country of origin or legal status—are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions are inappropriate for anyone in detention, but particularly for children, who are uniquely vulnerable. Jesus reserves some of his strongest words of judgment for those who subject children to harm.” Among the group’s demands are adequate funding, trained staff, and decreased use of detention, especially for children.

EIT member Russell Moore sparked debate on Twitter this week with comments about border conditions. Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted: “The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.