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Presentation: Border issue isn’t political; it’s a ‘human crisis’

Justice for Our Neighbors-Austin

Elizabeth Wright, executive director of the United Methodist Church’s Justice for Our Neighbors-Austin, discusses current immigration and southern border issues during a Burnet County Democratic Club meeting. JFON-Austin has two immigration attorneys working with more than 180 people and on over 300 cases. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton


The Rev. Mel Hazlewood had always considered immigration a political issue better left to elected officials.

However, after a recent journey to the Texas-Mexico border as part of an ACLU-led group and observing immigration courts, Hazlewood changed his mind. He hopes others will look at the challenges on the border and seek ways to help.

“I always thought it was a political issue, but we have a human crisis at the border,” he said during an August 20 presentation at the Burnet County Democratic Club meeting.

The retired pastor explained he didn’t fully grasp the depth of the problem until he saw it with his own eyes.

And, Hazlewood said, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican, liberal, or conservative. 

“They’re people,” he said of the immigrants. 

The basis of the August 20 presentation was to shed light on the border and immigration issue. While much is written and said about it in the media and from people with strong opinions on the topic, those speaking to the club Tuesday pointed out the complexity of the problem and how it can be approached compassionately. 

Susan Mitchell shared how she, her husband, and her 80-something-year-old mother ventured to the border area to see the situation for themselves. They ended up becoming closely involved with helping a number of El Salvadorans work their way through the asylum process. 

“They need a $10,000 cash bond just to get the asylum process started,” she explained.

She and her family have fronted some of those bonds, which are returned by the government when the person completes the asylum process. Of those they’ve assisted, Mitchell said, they’ve recouped 100 percent of the costs.

While some believe immigrants arriving at the border to be processed through U.S. Customs and Border Protection are only “gaming the system” so they can get into the United States, that’s not what Hazlewood, Mitchell, and others have experienced.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wright, executive director of Justice for Our Neighbors-Austin, said she’s heard that claim over and over. 

“They’re not gaming the system because they don’t know the game,” she said.

Justice for Our Neighbor, an outreach of the United Methodist Church, provides legal services for immigrants going through the asylum or immigration process. The Austin office, which serves most of South and Southwest Texas, has two attorneys currently handling 187 individuals and over 300 cases. (An individual may have more than one case.)

Wright said it’s true some immigrants allowed into the United States might not show up for court appointments or hearings, but it’s most likely because they don’t understand or know the rules.

“The statistics change dramatically when they have representation,” Wright said.

Unfortunately, many immigrants don’t have adequate legal representation or any at all. Organizations such as Justice for Our Neighbors try to provide those services, but, Wright pointed out, there are not enough attorneys working with these nonprofits to keep up with the need.

Even then, immigration courts are overflowing with cases.

Wright and Mitchell also want to educate people on the reason many immigrant families come to America — and it might not be why you think.  

Many aren’t pursuing the American dream; they’re trying to escape a nightmare at home.

“They really don’t want to come here; they’d much rather be at home,” Mitchell said.

One family fled their Central American home after a local gang threatened to force their son to join the gang if the family did not pay them protection money. As a warning, the gang told the family to watch outside their home the next morning. What they saw was gang members gunning down an elderly neighbor as he was milking a cow.

“That’s what they’re escaping from,” Mitchell said. 

Wright agreed.

“They’re fleeing their living nightmare,” she said. “Everything you hear about the horrors they face in Honduras, El Salvador, it’s true. It’s not about coming to chase the American dream. It’s about trying to stay alive or save their children.”

In the end, a quick fix to the border crisis doesn’t exist, but Wright hopes people will show compassion and mercy toward the immigrants.

But, that’s just a start.

“We focus on mercy, but we also have to think about justice. That’s the long game,” she added.

Helping immigrants isn’t always popular and can draw the ire of some. Hazlewood understands the criticism of assisting immigrants when there are already dire situations in the United States such as homelessness among veterans. 

“We should help our homeless veterans,” he said. “What drew me to the border was how big it had became and because (immigrants) had died while in U.S. custody. I had to do something, something to help.

“If someone wants to help homeless vets, or others in the United States, I say do it. Find your place to help,” Hazlewood added.

To learn more about how you can help at the border, contact local churches such as First United Methodist Church of Bertram, First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls, First United Methodist Church of Burnet, Trinity Episcopal Church of Marble Falls, or your own church. 

If you’re interested in helping with veterans issues, contact Burnet County Veterans Service Officer Phil Pall at The HARTH Foundation offers equine therapy services for active duty military members and veterans. The foundation is looking for volunteers and financial support.

4 thoughts on “Presentation: Border issue isn’t political; it’s a ‘human crisis’

  1. Also at the meeting were three women who sew 1-yard x 1-yard quilts for children stuck at the border. Judy Pollen, Cynthia Chisolm and Debbie Nelson shared how they had just sent 18 quilts to El Paso the previous week to children whose mothers weren’t allowed to cross the border with their kids and are stuck in Juarez. They could use help with funding for materials and places to gather volunteers to set up sewing machines, cutting places, ironing boards, material sorting tables, etc. – and sew! They’ll also share materials if you want to sew these “quickie quilts” yourself.

  2. Truly your article was informative and accurate and I thank you. As to the Mr. Fenters reply I read asking Democrats to do more, I venture to say they are. Through their time, their pocket books and their churches. However, I would point out that my Republican family members and friends point out to me “that those people at the border are not wanted under any circumstances”. And “it does not matter what their home countries are doing, because it is not our fault or our business.”
    Thank goodness for the churches and charitable organizations that are doing all they can to help these poor people. And, to people, that realize this is a humanitarian issue. It should not be political, racial or bias on imigration.
    I am proud of our country for its history of welcoming imigrants and helping other countries through thoughtul and fair negotiations. We have not always been kind to all imigrants, i.e. Irish, Germans, Puerto Ricans, however, as time went by we realized their value as human beings. We even for decades would not elect a Catholic President until John Kennedy in the early 60’s. Let’s not repeat our mistakes. Open our heart and mind to fellow human beings.
    I do agree with Mr. Fenders, that we can and should do more. We should be Americans first
    not Republicans, Democrates, Independents or whatevers, just old fashioned AMERICANS.
    Be kind in our words, thoughts and deeds.

  3. Thank you, Daniel Clifton, for that well-written and concise article. It described what those poor immigrants are trying to escape. From my study, it may be far worse than described. Regardless, it deserves humanitarian assistance. No. I’m not talking more money. I’m talking mentoring. For Americans truly willing to help, here’s an opportunity.
    You may “adopt” a family for two years. Bring them to your home, feed, clothe and educate them. So in two years they can become U.S. citizens, who are productive in the work force. We need more capable workers. So you would ensure they speak fluent English and perform a competent/relevant/necessary job skill. I’ve suggested this to several strong Democrats. So far, none has taken that mantel. Mr.’s Wright and Mitchell can lead by example. After all words are cheap.. . . . ..especially these, unless more concerned people (generally Democrats) prove their words.
    To seriously address this situation, someone must address the root cause. What is that? Lack of police enforcement and protection which is sadly missing in those countries? How do we address that when they are so poor? Hmmm, We, the United States could declare Martial Law and enforce it with troops. Whose troops? How about Mexican troops? Mexico is the common pathway. Surely Mexico has a vested interest in stopping the flow of immigrants, not to mention the Coyotes who rape, plunder and abuse those folks as well as Mexican citizens.
    Regardless of our President’s efforts, our Congress is hesitant to back him on this one. Care to write your Representatives and Senators? OK, I have done this. Pls join me as I expand my list. And all you Democrats put your mentoring where your mouths are. Yikes, did I just write that? Hmmmmm. Shame on my Political in-correctness.

    1. Les, I could care less about political correctness, but shame on you for the partisan attitude.
      Am I correct in assuming you have invited an immigrant family into your home? Come on Les, “words are cheap”.
      The nonpartisan presentation offered educational information to people that are willing to work 12 hours a day for immigrant families left to starve in, for example, Eagle Pass. Many local Burnet Country residents are not only making quilts and teddy bears for immigrant children they also deliver.. in fact Les, maybe you could hitch a ride with the Bertram church heading to the border this week.
      This informative meeting is held every 3rd Tuesday, 12 noon at Trailblazers on the square.
      Oh, talking about the coyotes, how about that Geoffrey Epstein and his famous posse.

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