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Baptist groups join others in bracing for end of immigration policy

Maria Gonzalez (seated), along with her husband Juvenal, regularly hosts migrants at her home in Southern California, feeding them and helping them with paperwork. Submitted photo

TIJUANA, Mexico (BP) — The upcoming expiration of a COVID-era immigration policy has communities and groups such as ministry centers bracing for a surge in migrants.

Title 42, set to expire on May 11, was instituted by the Trump administration in March 2020 as a strict immigration measure to limit the spread of COVID-19. Though it has been extended in the past, a May 2 release from the Department of Homeland Security requested 2,500 military personnel from the Department of Defense to the Southwest border “due to an anticipated increase in migration.”

Juvenal Gonzalez has been active in border ministry at Tijuana through the San Diego Baptist Association, particularly in overseeing a daily feeding station for migrants. He has not seen the crowds grow just yet, but knows that will change.

“People seem to be more desperate,” said Gonzalez, a church planting missionary with the association who lives in Tijuana.

That desperation stems from things like a lack of internet connectivity for those attempting to cross before those crowds arrive. The stronger signal at Starbucks has drawn groups of people eager to complete the application on their phones.

Gonzalez also noted an observation on recent migrants’ home countries.

“I’m seeing more from Russia and Afghanistan,” he said. “From Russia, there have been more young people. We are helping some, feeding them at our home and helping with the application process.”

The reason is connected to the war in Ukraine. Announcements for military conscription drove the group he is currently helping from Russia to his home.

“I think we’re going to see more people from there,” he said.

He is not convinced that Title 42 will expire, but that is almost beside the point when it comes to his work. His team serves food to around 200 people daily.

El Paso, Texas, declared a state of emergency on May 1 in anticipation of thousands of migrants. Kelly Knott, director of the El Paso Migrant Center, heard that the influx could be so large that as many as 30,000 people could make their way as far as Midland, a 4 1/2-hour drive away.

The Migrant Center, a ministry of the El Paso Baptist Association, works with local authorities to help process migrants who have documentation in hand. The last time Title 42 was set to expire, in December, there was an average of 2,500 crossings a day, said EPBA executive director Larry Floyd.

While processing can take a few days, only about 24 hours is spent at the Migrant Center. There, people receive food, shelter, showers and hygiene supplies as well as a Gospel witness.

“We become a place of refuge, peace, hope and love in Christ before they are directed to their next stop,” Knott said.

Other partnering shelters in the city are equipped for those requiring a longer stay.

Outside of preparing for large crowds, he said the end of Title 42 won’t change the mission.

“It will mean more opportunities to be the Good Samaritan, to share the Gospel, mobilize the Church and help others focus on mission,” he said. “It’s more opportunity to do ministry.”