Rio Grande Diocese Assists Asylum Seekers at Mexican Border

By Lynette Wilson
Episcopal News Service

An informal tent city has taken stake in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, alongside the entrance to the Santa Fe Street Bridge, one of three bridges connecting the sprawling northern Mexico border city to El Paso, Texas.In recent months, Mexican families fleeing rising violence perpetrated by drug cartels in the country’s south have arrived at the U.S. southern border seeking protection in the United States via the asylum system. Unlike Central American asylum-seekers who have been arriving steadily at the U.S.-Mexico border for more than a year, there’s no “official” system for handling the surge in Mexicans seeking the same protection from violence and persecution.

A tent city in Juarez

“The people who are living out on the streets by the ports, they are all Mexican. There is no established system to deal with Mexican asylum-seekers seeking the protection of the United States,” said the Rev. Cristina Rathbone, who for three months while on sabbatical has served the Diocese of Rio Grande in El Paso as a bridge chaplain, accompanying families as they wait their turn to claim asylum and holding daily English and art classes for children.

“By the three ports of entry, there are three tent communities, and the people there – more than two-thirds of them have families – have self-organized,” she said. “They have created unofficial community-based lists; the people at the top of those lists go up to the ports of entry and seek permission to ask for asylum from the border patrol agents every two hours, 24 hours a day, and almost always are turned away with the same refrain, ‘There is no room.’”

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