Title 42 ends — and Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas prepares for a spike in migrants

The church is preparing to receive five times more migrants after the pandemic-era health policy known as Title 42 expired last week.

By Stella M. Chávez, KERA NewsMay 18, 2023 10:45 am, , ,

From KERA News:

A Dallas church is preparing to receive five times more migrants after a pandemic-era health policy known as Title 42 expired May 11.

The policy expelled hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum.

Since 2019, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church has been a safe place for asylum seekers passing through North Texas.

This was the case on a recent Wednesday morning.

“Bienvenidos!” says a woman welcoming the new arrivals who’ve just stepped off the bus.

Two buses carrying 65 individuals arrived on this day, about a dozen of them were women. The visitors came from several different countries — Venezuela, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and China.

Migrants seeking asylum exit the bus after leaving a detention center along the border Wednesday, May 3, 2023, at Oak Lawn Methodist Church in Dallas. The church volunteers feed and clothe the migrants before they continue traveling to their destinations.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

When asked why they’re here, most said they came to work and help family members.

“I came with one objective — to help my mom who has an enlarged heart,” said Cardales-Hostia, who came from Colombia. “I want to work in the fields. It’s the season for picking apples, kiwi, peaches.”

To get to the U.S., Cardales-Hostia had to pass through the countries of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. It was exhausting journey and one he said he would not want to relive.

“It was very ugly,” he said. “You see people who’ve died. It’s very risky.”

U.S. officials have been anticipating an increase in the number of migrants coming to the U.S. once the pandemic-era health policy known as Title 42 expired.

In response, the Biden administration has added new restrictions to make it more difficult for asylum seekers.

Still, church officials said they were expecting to receive five buses of migrants five days a week, once the policy lifted. They also know those numbers could change if these new measures impact overall numbers.

Whatever the case, Rachel Griffin, who’s senior pastor here, said they’re ready. For most migrants, this is a just temporary stop as they make their way from immigration detention centers to their final destination. That usually means a family member or friend who will act as a sponsor.

“It will certainly be an increase in the work and the operation that we’re doing,” Griffin said. “But because [during] this operation we see people come in and go out really all in one day, it’ll just be a lot of repetition of that throughout the week.”

Griffin and her staff have been asking volunteers to sign up to help. They’re also asking for donations, like snacks, back packs and clothing, such as jeans and t-shirts. They’ve posted information and videos on their social media, trying to get their messages asking for support far and wide.

Griffin said Title 42 has created what she describes as a bottleneck at the border.

“For Title 42 to be lifted is really a matter of just getting back to what our normal operation has been and should be,” she said. “And the reason that we’ll see a major influx is because it has been imposed, not because there’s a massive change in the number of people actually seeking asylum in the United States.”

People who sign up to help at the church’s Welcome Center receive training. Some assist migrants in making travel arrangements like getting them bus or airline tickets.

Others make sure guests are fed and able to contact their loved ones.

Cassie Stewart with Rio Valley Relief Project helps Diomar Guerrero Alvarez find clothes before continuing to his U.S. destination Wednesday, May 3, 2023, at Oak Lawn Methodist Church in Dallas. Today, the church hosted 65 migrants and expected to increase significantly after Title 42 is lifted.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA

Many of those who arrive here have had extremely long journeys.

“So I came from China to Ecuador and then from Ecuador, I start crossing country by country and I entered the United States through Mexico,” said Mohamed Abdelhamid Khelfoun, who’s originally from Algeria.

Khelfoun actually left Algeria six years and moved to China. But when the pandemic started, he said, China forced some of its foreigners to leave the country. He decided to move to Ecuador where he tried to learn Spanish and find a job. But he struggled to land steady work, he said.

Khelfoun now plans to join his brother and parents, who already live in the U.S., and who he said are here legally. He said he knows he still has a long process ahead, but he is relieved to be here. Still, he doesn’t think coming to the U.S. is a good idea for everyone.

“If anybody ask me, I don’t recommend doing this,” he said. “I don’t recommend this to nobody because I’ve seen people died. I’ve seen dead people on the road and it is really, really dangerous.”

Outside the church, Senior Pastor Rachel Griffin answered a reporter’s question about why her church does this work.

“We see this as our biblical mandate…we believe it is our call as children of God to open our doors and to show hospitality and to help people as they journey,” she said. “And so that’s really what we seek to do — to show love.”

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