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Pastor converts half of his church into center for asylum-seeking families

The continued surge of undocumented asylum seekers has overwhelmed both the federal government and local charities, prompting a Texas pastor to answer the call to help.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The pastor of the Baptist Church of West Brownsville wants to redefine what it means to be a Christian in the midst of a humanitarian crisis at the southern border.

Last week, Pastor Carlos Navarro converted half of his church into a respite center and began taking in migrant families released by federal authorities.

Navarro breaks the ice by breaking the language barrier between himself and the Central American families as soon as they are dropped off at the church in downtown Brownsville. It’s not just by speaking Spanish that makes Navarro relatable; it’s the nuances of the Central American cultures that he grew up with.

“The horror movie is over,” Navarro said of the migrant experience. “This is the last chapter. You’re not going to see it anymore.”

Every day for the past week, the Guatemalan pastor and his army of volunteers have taken in up to 50 families dropped off by local authorities after being released by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Credit: KENS
Baptist Church West Brownsville opened its doors to migrant families released by Border Patrol

The continued surge of undocumented asylum seekers have overwhelmed both the federal government and local charities, prompting Navarro to answer the call.

“I do it because my heart tells me to do it,” he said.

Navarro migrated to the U.S. from Guatemala in the 80’s. Like many Central American families today, he fled seeking better opportunities.

“I came to this country illegally. And I went through all the process. I’m an American citizen now but I can’t forget my roots,” he said. “I don’t forget what I had to go through when I came here. So, when I see them I see myself.”

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Estela Escalante, a Salvadorian migrant, and her husband, David Rivera, said wanted to cross the border the "legal" way by seeking asylum at a port of entry.

Escalante said they waited four months camping on the Mexican side of the Brownsville Gateway International Bridge for their turn to seek asylum with their three children, a granddaughter and her brother-in-law. 

They eventually grew desperate.

“We decided to cross the river the other night,” Escalante said.

Regardless of how they got to the U.S., the church offers families a place to eat, rest and play while they figure out arrangements to their final destination. Most haven’t showered or had anything to eat in days.

Credit: KENS
Salvadorian David Rivera recounts waiting at a port of entry for four months to ask for asylum

“God is going to repay you ten-fold,” said Rivera, grateful of the care he has received at the church.

“This is going to continue for months to come,” predicted Navarro.

The pastor believes migrants will continue to make the journey north until living conditions in Central America improve. Until then, he said, it is his duty to help thy neighbor.

“If I want to show my true colors as a Christian this is the moment to do it," he said. "Otherwise it’s just a show.”

The Baptist Church West Brownsville is accepting donations through an Amazon.com shopping list. 

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