‘Is there room at the inn?’ UCC pastor asks, as migrants await fate at U.S. border this Christmas
The Rev. Randy Mayer and members of The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Ariz., are leaders in the humanitarian response along the U.S.-Mexico border that offers food, water and medical care to migrants in the desert—operating on the belief that no one should die there. As thousands of migrants wait at the border for relief and the opportunity of a better life, Mayer reflects on parallels between their reality and the Christmas story.
Las Posadas are a favorite Christmas tradition in parts of Latin America and the United States borderlands.
In Spanish, Las Posadas means “shelters.” Las Posadas are energized gatherings of people forming a procession through their community, reenacting the pilgrimage of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. They unhurriedly walk door to door, singing and asking for shelter at each home. Each time the response is, “Go away, we can’t help you,” until finally they reach a house that will welcome them, and a grand celebration ensues.
Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Las Posadas become more than just a reenactment of an ancient story. Las Posadas become alive with real people and real stories. There are thousands of people fleeing persecution, violence, poverty and climate change in Mexico and other countries in Latin America. They arrive at the border and literally knock on the door of the United States, pleading for safe shelter, desperately seeking asylum.
Is there any room at the inn?
They are met with a slammed door and a cold-hearted response from the U.S. government. Legal entry into the United States for asylum seekers has become quite difficult. In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to hit the United States, President Trump dredged up an obscure public health order known as Title 42 that allows immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants and deny entry to asylum seekers due to the public health threat. President Biden has hid under the cover of Title 42, using the health risk to justify expelling nearly 2 million people at the border.
Today, the health risk has significantly diminished, but the United States continues to use Title 42 as its primary border enforcement policy to refuse entry to people. The federal courts finally stepped in to force the Center for Disease Control to lift Title 42, but that was quickly challenged. On Dec. 19, the Supreme Court weighed in, temporarily keeping Title 42 in place.
While the political checker game over Title 42 plays out, the agony and suffering of migrant families is unrelenting as they wait in unfamiliar Mexican border towns where they are sitting ducks for gangs and cartels. With the anticipation of Title 42 being lifted, there is a growing surge of migrant families arriving at the border pleading for relief. As the situation gets more dangerous in the border towns, many are deciding to cross into the United States through the rugged desert in Arizona or across the Rio Grande in Texas.
Christmas is here, Las Posadas are being celebrated, the piñatas and corn tamales are being eaten, Mary and Joseph have found their shelter. But that is not the case for thousands and thousands of migrants along the border. They continue to pound on the door, asking, “Is there any room?”
We have been conditioned to believe that the Christmas story is all about the birth of Jesus. But the reality of the Christmas story is that it is a story about migration that just so happens to have Jesus’ birth taking place within it. Which changes everything.
Migration and the grace of offering La Posada and welcoming the stranger is so central to our Christian faith story that it really can’t be told or understood without it. Which gives us plenty to ponder in the season of Christmas as doors are locked, walls are built and policies like Title 42 are used to keep future Marys and Josephs out in the cold.
Lord have mercy!
The Rev. Randy Mayer is senior minister at The Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Ariz., and a founding member of most of the border humanitarian groups in the Santa Cruz Valley.
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