“When I speak to congregations, everybody understands the gospel meaning of welcoming the stranger.” So said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, when I spoke to him last week. While the moral imperative to welcome the stranger is clear in the abstract, it is often difficult to put into practice for many. Father Garcia has been welcoming migrants and refugees for nearly 40 years at his center in the heart of his downtown El Paso, at the geographic center of the U.S.-Mexico border. The humble building on a triangular lot has provided shelter to more than 100,000 migrants. Today he considers the political climate chilling and our immigration system increasingly unjust with devastating consequences to families.
About a month ago, Annunciation House was receiving roughly 1,000 refugees a week; that number has slowed to a trickle. The U.S. has moved to a detention model for many asylum seekers, and Annunciation House usually receives migrants who have recently been released from detention. Mexico is ill-equipped to handle the global refugees that continue to pour into their country headed north, after a trek across the Central American jungle, often through as many as eight countries.
We at Heartbeat are concerned with the global refugee crisis, which according to the U.N. Refugee Agency saw numbers of displaced people reach a global high in 2016, surpassing even the numbers from World War II. The Refugee Fund that we established last year in honor of John Philip Newell’s father has already funded a group of students who set up solar charging stations on the island of Lesbos.
Today, we announce that Heartbeat is providing a donation of $5,000 to Annunciation House in El Paso as they continue their refugee work, meeting not only the immediate needs of individuals and families, but advocating for a humane response to the plight of migrants and fighting against the rampant misinformation that is informing recent policy decisions in the U.S. While this amount is nominal based on the needs of this organization (food, diapers, clothing, formula, maintenance), we hope to challenge others to support this important work.
We recognize the plight of migrants worldwide, we celebrate the universal human family, and we say to those who are coming here fleeing war and violence, “We Stand With You” and “Estamos con ustedes!”
Vanessa Johnson, Treasurer for Heartbeat
El Paso, Texas
To support future initiatives responding to the refugee crises, please make a contribution to the William James Newell Refugee Fund.