Bishop Hutterer: Border Reflections, part 2

This update is a part two of Bishop Hutterer’s visit to Nogales, Mexico last Monday, April 8.

Are those coming refugees or asylum seekers?

The answer is a bit of both. While the United Nations has classified those fleeing these Central nations as refugees, it is more typical to hear those arriving at our southern border described as asylum seekers. US Homeland Security recognizes refugees and asylees in the same category: A refugee is a person outside his/her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to his/her country because of persecution or a  well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or a political opinion. An Asylee is a person who meet the definition of refugee and is already present in the United States or is seeking admission to a port of entry. ( From a practical perspective, those currently in the U.S. can be understood as refugees seeking asylum, but who claims for asylum have yet to be evaluated and determined.

What happens when refugees arrive to seek asylum?

After making the journey from Central America to Mexico, refugees arrive at the U.S. border and either wait for a chance to make an asylum claim at a port of entry or cross the border without authorization and make their claim when apprehended by the Border Patrol. Border Patrol is responsible for the initial contact with refugees in their role of patrolling U.S. borders. Asylum seekers are then released into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who process the applicant and conduct an interview.

Those seeking asylum in the U.S. must undergo a hearing to determine the merits of their claim. As they wait for their hearing, they are either detained or are released to the care of a sponsor, often to a family member, who resides in the U.S. and agrees to provide housing and basic needs. Those released to a sponsor are tracked with an ankle bracelet. Transportation to the sponsor is the responsibility of the refugee and sponsor themselves.

In the case of La Roca, the shelter I visited last week, children, women and men went to the border and stood in line. Once they received a number they could stay at La Roca while they waited for their number to be called. Cruzando Fronteras (a Lutheran-Episcopal ministry) supports this shelter. As the weather continues to get warmer, we are working to find a larger, more accommodating shelter that has access to some air conditioning and a washer and dryer.

Refugees who have been processed in the U.S. and await their court date are released. In Phoenix last week about 200 were released each day. With ICE lacking the capacity for growing asylee numbers, families have been released to churches in Phoenix for temporary and transitional shelter until they are capable of traveling to their final destination. Currently, there are not enough churches to accommodate the increasing numbers of asylum-seekers, and these families are being released on the street and at bus stations, with no means to continue their journey.

Many would label this a humanitarian crisis, and as God’s people we can step in make a difference.

Church Together Better Together

On Good Friday you may hear one of Jesus’ last statements: It is finished. Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem was finished, but the mission is not finished for those of us here. Praise God we are people who are stirred to action. In the midst of tragic circumstances, we can be Church Together for the sake of God’s world. 

  • Witness to God’s love for the world by volunteering. In Tucson asylees are being housed at a Monastery, in Phoenix volunteers are urgently needed for shelter set-up, volunteer check-in, food service, travel assistance (bilingual preferred), driving/escorting, security, shelter breakdown, and much more. If you are interested in being a part of the Phoenix Reception and Welcome team in a volunteering—visit

  • Collect items, including: travel back packs, medical kits, snack bags, hygiene items, paper products. The Grand Canyon Synod Assembly planning team is working with LSS-SW and Cruzando Fronteras to pull together a list of items to be collected at Synod Assembly in June.


The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer
Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA