Faith Groups Celebrate Christmas at the US-Mexico Border

People protest against U.S. immigration policies on the American side, right, of the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California on Dec. 10, 2018. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

For a quarter century at Christmastime, hundreds have gathered on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border just south of San Diego for a binational performance of a “posada,” a Mexican tradition in which worshippers re-enact the biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s struggle to find a place to stay before Jesus was born.

But this year’s performance of the Binational Posada, which took place Dec. 15, was a little different.

The most obvious change was in the service itself: Organizers said U.S. Border Patrol agents forced those on the northern side to stand behind a second fence dozens of yards from the main fence, a first in the gathering’s 25-year history.

The extra security follows the events of Dec. 10, when more than 30 religious leaders were arrested along the border — feet from where the Binational Posada would be held — while protesting the treatment of asylum seekers.

“It was really tough to coordinate the traditional posada song,” said Adam Estle, a participant at the service and director of field and constituencies for the National Immigration Forum. “Being so far apart — it was really difficult to actually do that in any sort of synchronization.”

Not nearly so visible was the presence of more than 150 Christians — primarily evangelicals — who joined the gathering as part of a delegation organized by the Global Immersion Project and National Immigration Forum, flooding the ranks of attendees on both sides of the border fence.

The Christian contingent encapsulated how the political debates about U.S. border policy have engaged faith groups in 2018. The widespread pushback to the use of tear gas against asylum seekers in a Central American migrant caravan, the separation of migrant families and calls to build a new border wall have moved religious Americans to come to the border — some to learn about the issues, others to express solidarity with immigrants.

Estle’s delegation, which organizers said included evangelical business leaders and nonprofit executives, crossed the border into Tijuana, Mexico, where the group visited churches currently housing members of the caravan, met with city officials and heard lectures on the history of Central America and current U.S. immigration policy.

In California, a group of clergy has teamed with labor unions to organize a one-day “Faith Caravan” on Dec. 22 that will bus around 100 fellow clergy, local politicians, lawyers and medical professionals from Los Angeles into Tijuana. Once there, they plan to provide legal counsel and health screenings for caravan members seeking asylum in the United States and participate in an interfaith prayer service.

The “Faith Caravan” follows in the footsteps of religious groups such as World Relief, an evangelical Christian organization that sent some of its legal services staff to Tijuana to assist those seeking asylum.

“The welfare of what the Bible calls ‘aliens’ is an essential part of the Judeo-Christian tradition,” said the Rev. Frank Alton, an Episcopal priest and one of the organizers of the trip. He added that he saw Christmas as a spiritually appropriate time for the trip.

“‘No room at the inn’ is such a perfect image (for this issue), a religious image, a theological image in the broader sense,” he said.

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Source: Religion News Service