The U.S. city of El Paso and the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez might lay on opposite sides of the U.S.–Mexico border, but the two cities have long considered themselves to be a tightly connected community. This binational solidarity was broadcast to the world in the aftermath of the El Paso shooting on August 3, 2019. Long before then, however, individuals and organizations from both sides of the border were coming together to address the needs of migrants at the border.
Ciudad Nueva is one of the organizations on the U.S. side of the border that has stepped up to address the growing humanitarian crisis at the U.S.–Mexico border. Several years ago, we started connecting and supporting churches and other organizations that were hosting asylum seekers. Over time we expanded this work under the banner of “El Paso Encounters” in order to respond to the most pressing needs of our border community, educate people about the realities on the ground, and connect resources to the places where they are needed most.
As the crisis has worsened in recent years, the needs have also increased. But so, too, has the number of people wanting to learn more and get involved in helping meet those needs. As a result, we recently made the strategic decision to form a separate initiative to focus on the work at the border without taking away from the unique neighborhood focus of Ciudad Nueva. That border initiative is known as Abara, and it’s currently in the process of being incorporated as an independent 501(c)3 entity.
Why the number of people seeking asylum in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years
While migration from Central America to the U.S. is not a new phenomenon, the current levels of those seeking asylum are very high, with the U.S. seeing a record number of asylum applications in recent years. This increase is mainly due to people fleeing the growing violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), composed of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The NTCA is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth, especially for women and children. Many of the people leaving this area are fleeing for their lives.
Other reasons why people flee the NTCA include extortion and corruption, poverty, family disintegration, and the effects of U.S. domestic and foreign policy in the region.
How the asylum process works and why there’s a humanitarian crisis at the border
When an individual seeking asylum reaches the U.S. border, they present themselves to a U.S. official and declare their desire to apply for asylum. At that point, they are referred for a credible fear screening interview. If the officer determines that there is a “significant possibility” they are eligible for asylum, the asylum seeker is referred to an immigration court where they will have the opportunity to apply for asylum before an immigration judge. If the individual does not meet the credible fear screening standard, they can be deported immediately.
While they are awaiting their court date, asylum seekers are left in limbo. If they are not held in detention, they are released into the U.S. or back into Mexico with nothing but that with which they entered the country — usually just the clothes on their backs and little to no money. They find themselves having left one vulnerable situation only to step into another.
What this crisis looks like in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez
A loose coalition of organizations, mostly churches, formed over the last few years to provide temporary shelter to the hundreds of asylum seekers being released into El Paso every day. If it weren’t for these shelters, asylum seekers would be released by ICE onto the street or at a bus stop. In addition to providing asylum seekers with a place to stay for a few days, these shelters have provided intakes, phone calls to relatives to purchase bus or plane tickets, showers, food, clean clothing, transportation to the bus station or airport, and food for the journey.
The response on the U.S. side of the border has decreased dramatically over the last few months as asylum seekers are now mostly being returned back across the border to await their court hearings through the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The shelters in Ciudad Juárez, mostly churches, have been stretched thin by the increasing numbers and there are currently thousands of asylum seekers in Juárez, with hundreds being added to their numbers every day. New churches are opening their doors as migrant shelters each month and they are very short on resources.
Where the work of Abara comes in
Abara works as a supportive entity to network with shelter directors on both sides of the border, understand needs, collect and distribute donations, connect volunteers, and host groups interested in border immersion and volunteer experiences. Through the following ways, Abara helps support and increase the capacity of local shelters on both sides of the border:
- Collecting monetary donations to purchase much-needed supplies for shelters, such as air conditioning units, bunk beds, clean drinking water, etc. Click here to donate.
- Collecting or purchasing, storing, and distributing items for asylum seekers, such as toiletry kits, children’s items, clothing, kitchen items, etc. Click here to find out how to donate.
- Supporting professionals in providing general legal orientations and updates to asylum seekers. Click here to donate.
- Hosting two- to five-day border encounters for individuals and small groups who want to learn more about the realities at the border. Click here to find out more.
- Serving as a supportive communication and logistics hub.
- Equipping churches and other entities to run more effective shelters.
- Supporting churches and other entities in activating their networks to support the effort.
Where you come in
The humanitarian crisis at the border is complex — and it can be overwhelming — but working together, we can address the needs of our brothers and sisters who have fled their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S. Regardless of our political persuasions, we believe that we are called to engage and respond in love to the vulnerable we encounter.
Please consider getting involved in one of the following ways:
- Come on a border encounter. If you’re interested in wrestling with some of the difficult realities at the border, consider joining us for a two- to five-day border encounter. Learn more here.
- Make a financial donation. It costs about $40 per day to provide basic services for one migrant family. Learn more here.
- Donate items and supplies. Shelters in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are in desperate need of supplies to serve the asylum seekers in their care. Learn more here.
- Sign up for our newsletter. Stay informed on what is happening and how to help. Sign up here.