“We’re using a prison system to address a humanitarian crisis. That’s where all the problems are coming,” said the Rt. Rev. Michael Buerkel Hunn, Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, which includes 40% of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hunn spoke July 2 on a webinar sponsored by Episcopal Migration Ministries and the  Office of Government Relations, discussing the waves of frightened families that began flooding the border around Christmas last year — just a few weeks after Hunn was consecrated the XI Bishop of the Rio Grande.

The webinar was part of a concerted effort the Church and several of its dioceses are  making in response to “reports of inhumane conditions for children and other asylum seekers in government custody,” the Church announced.

Hunn described the diocese, which includes New Mexico and nine counties around El Paso, Texas, as about a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans. But “there’s a lot of common ground,” he said. “We can all agree that children should not be held in prison cells.”

He added, “These are moral issues, these are Gospel issues, and no matter who you voted for… there is a Gospel call to love our neighbor.” He described efforts to work with partners from the Anglican Communion provinces south of the border to address the problems that are driving the refugees from their homes.

“What would it take for me to be desperate enough to leave my home, my job and all that I own, with all that I can carry, and my children,” hoping to find asylum in the  United States, “and then I can start over, with nothing,” he said. He relayed harrowing stories from refugees about Central American drug cartels using violence and rape to force teens and pre-teens into the drug trade.

The webinar can be viewed here. A description of efforts from throughout the Episcopal Church is here.

Kirk Petersen