Church at center of border crisis response

July 29, 2014

United Methodist News Service

First United Methodist Church of Dallas is playing a lead role in the city's interfaith humanitarian response to the immigration crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Dallas Morning News has the story. 

Faithful put aside their differences to help migrant youths 

Piles of Superman underwear sit among the pyramids of protein formula in the atrium of the First United Methodist Church of Dallas. Soon, the stash will be trucked to South Texas to help with relief efforts for the influx of children and teenagers from Central America.

Down the street on Ross Avenue, welcome boxes sit in an office of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. So many people called the church wanting to help that a parishioner organized a welcome-box drive. She asked for toiletries, a small toy and a handwritten note.

Esperamos que te guste el juguete! Con cariño, tus amigos en Dallas.” We hope you like the toy, with affection, your Dallas friends, one reads.

Across North Texas, across political divides and theological differences, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and others in the local faith community are stepping up with assistance for the children who have crossed the border illegally without a parent. Congregations moved by the plight of the children are finding practical ways to help, even as governments and politicians argue and scramble over solutions.

“It’s a beautiful illustration of loving thy neighbor,” said the Rev. Linda Roby, an associate minister at First Methodist, patting packets of pajamas.

The pastor called the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley in Pharr to channel her congregation’s enthusiasm. With a short list of needs, donations poured in from inside and outside the congregation. A banner was unfurled this week to draw attention to the relief effort: Amo a los Niños. Love the Children, it says.

“This is not a political statement,” said Roby, who regularly runs a missionary trip to Costa Rica, which has also seen an influx of children seeking asylum. “It’s a humanitarian statement.”

Not everyone feels called in the same way, however.

Around the corner on San Jacinto Street, Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, caused a powerful stir. “The most compassionate thing we can do for these children is to secure the border,” Jeffress said in a recent interview with Fox News.

And Jeffress is not alone. A July poll by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Americans believe an accelerated legal process is best in dealing with the influx of Central American youth.

Younger migrants

The children pouring into the United States are younger, and more are coming from Central America than in previous years.

About 100,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended by federal immigration agents in the past two fiscal years. About 30 percent have been from Mexico and have been sent back within days, as allowed under U.S. law for nations contiguous to the U.S.

This fiscal year, however, Honduras leads the flow, followed by Guatemala and El Salvador. Those three countries have each outpaced Mexico this year in the number of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. This year, 16,546 unaccompanied children arrived from Honduras, compared with 12,614 from Mexico. More than 14,000 have been from Guatemala and more than 13,000 from El Salvador, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Children are younger than ever, too. Although most of the unaccompanied juveniles apprehended by federal immigration agents are teenagers, the number of children under 12 has doubled this year compared to last year, according to a Pew study.

Among Hondurans, fully a quarter of those apprehended this year are under 12, Pew said. Overall, children under 12 now make up about 14 percent of the total flow this year.

The Central American children have been detained by the U.S. Border Patrol and have been kept in shelters until they can be turned over to family members or foster families while their immigration case can be heard.

More could eventually be headed to Dallas County for a temporary stay. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is working with federal officials to set up three shelters in the county that could handle up to 2,000 unaccompanied minors at a time. Details of those shelters, however, are still being worked out.

Coming together

Many in the faith community aren’t waiting for government action.

More than 100 people came together earlier this month to discuss the border crisis at a meeting hosted by Park Cities Baptist Church and Unite, a religious collaborative group. They represented a cross-section of the faith community, and included Jenkins and other politicians as well. Others attending included members of Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of faith-based groups and social service agencies.

Theological lines were blurred.

“It has not been the left or the right or just Jewish and Catholic,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El. “It has been Protestants, Baptists, Jews, Catholics, blacks, Hispanics and everyone across the board.”

The rabbi also sits on the board of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, which provides free legal services for unaccompanied minors and refugees. He was particularly pleased that Jewish Family Services is involved because traumatized children need psychologists, too, he said.

“As Jews we recognize our own history and know what it was like for our ancestors to send our own children unaccompanied to other countries for safety,” the rabbi said.

Others at the meeting were asked to find volunteer attorneys, interpreters and foster families. Monetary donations are also a priority.

At First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Elena Bobadilla was tapped by her minister to be a translator.

“What I keep seeing on the news has really touched my heart,” said Bobadilla, a Plano teacher. “We don’t know what these children have been through. They’re probably scared, and having someone who speaks their language would be very helpful to them.”

Muslims are organizing, too. They plan to meet Thursday to discuss the crisis.

“There is no more vulnerable community than children,” said Alia Salem, the executive director of the D-FW chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs, or CAIR. “An 8-year-old isn’t going to come across the border … unless they are desperate.”

Further, many U.S. Muslims are immigrants or the children of immigrants, Salem said.

When a local group of atheists wanted to help, they turned to the Catholics. Hispanic Secular Humanists and the Fellowship of Freethought packed up supplies for the migrant children this weekend. They’ll deliver them to Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, which has operated a shelter for unaccompanied minors under the age of 13 for the last year. It has received about 200 children so far.

“We are trying to look out for the little ones who need us,” said Roddi Schoneberg of the Fellowship of Freethought. “There is controversy around the issue, but we want to help the children.”

Catholic help

Catholics have been among the first responders in North Texas and across the state.

In McAllen and Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened nongovernmental shelters more than a month ago. They provide a place for migrants, including families, to stay once they get out of detention and need to rest or eat before continuing their journey.

Catholic Charities of Dallas has worked for four years to provide legal assistance and orientation for unaccompanied juvenile migrants. This past week, they said they needed more attorneys, preferably Spanish-speaking ones. They also need Spanish-speaking volunteers who can perform legal screenings for each child, and interpreters.

Monetary donations to defray court fees are welcomed, they said. They also welcome Target and Walmart gift cards to purchase clothes for the children, and “comfort items” such as toiletries, pajamas, crayons and picture books.

Vanna Slaughter, the director of immigration and legal services for Catholic Charities, said attorneys are especially needed because 30 to 40 percent of the youths will have a legal remedy that would allow them to stay. But every child must be interviewed to glean pertinent details, she said.

Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell and Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson joined together last week in calling on lawyers to help the children.

Farrell, who is an immigrant from Ireland, has questioned the public acrimony over the influx of children.

“Why is it today that this is such a divisive issue?” he asked. “Perhaps, because we are looking at it through the lens of a political response ... These are our brothers and sisters. We need to care for them.”

For motivation, he turned to the Bible, to the book of Matthew, Chapter 25.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he quoted. “For I was thirsty and you gave me drink. For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

AT A GLANCE: How to help

Here are some organizations that are coordinating volunteer efforts to respond to the influx of unaccompanied migrant children into the United States. As many as 2,000 children could be coming to Dallas County for temporary shelter.


Catholic Charities of Dallas is looking for Spanish speakers to conduct interviews with children. Contact volunteer coordinator Eileen O’Malley at

NETWORK of Community Ministries is looking for volunteers who can serve as interviewers, receptionists and delivery drivers, as well as in its clothing center and food pantry. Those who are interested can visit

The Dallas County chapter of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD, will coordinate organizations offering assistance to the migrant children in the proposed shelters. Individuals can sign up with the Volunteer Center of North Texas at

Legal services

Catholic Charities is also looking for volunteer attorneys. Contact Eileen O’Malley at

The Dallas Hispanic Bar Association and the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas are training attorneys to help represent children in immigration cases. Those who are interested can visit

Clothing and other goods

Catholic Charities of Dallas is asking for Target and Wal-Mart gift cards in $25 increments. These will be used to buy clothes for the kids. Gift cards can be sent or delivered to Mary Jo Dorn at the Catholic Charities offices, 9461 LBJ Freeway, Suite 128, Dallas TX 75243.

Catholic Charities is also asking for toiletries, pajamas, rosaries, Bibles, prayer books and picture books — in Spanish, if possible. These can be dropped off at 9461 LBJ Freeway, Suite 128.

Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery is seeking specific clothing and food items for its border locations. Visit and click on “For the Children Fund.”

First United Methodist Church of Dallas is accepting donations of Pedialyte, newborn Nido powdered formula, and children’s underwear. The church is at 1928 Ross Ave. in downtown Dallas. Donations should be brought to the reception desk at the San Jacinto Street entrance.

The Tarrant County Democratic Party is accepting toiletries in a small backpack or cloth bag, which they said will help them distribute the items easily. They’re also asking for toys. Donations can be brought to the party’s headquarters at 2806 Race St., Fort Worth TX 76111 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, or Cole Ballweg’s campaign office at 200 North Mesquite St., Suite 250, Arlington, TX 76111 starting Wednesday, July 22. Call 817-691-4413 to schedule a time.

Network of Community Ministries is accepting food, toys, children’s clothing, school supplies and toiletries. The items are accepted 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday at 741 South Sherman Street in Richardson. They can be brought to the clothing center dock or food dock at the back of the building.

Monetary gifts

Catholic Charities of Dallas will use donations to cover legal fees for representation of the children. Donations can be dropped off at the office, 9461 LBJ Freeway, Suite 128, Dallas TX 75243.

Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery is accepting donations by mail, in care of Finance & Accounting, Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington Ave., Dallas TX 75246. Checks should be made payable to “Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery,” with the memo notation, “For the Children Fund.”

First United Methodist Church in Dallas is taking donations. Visit

See the Dallas Morning News article HERE.