Immigrant needs multiply in Matamoros

Pastor Rogelio Pérez of Iglesia Bautista Capernaum in Brownsville, Texas, ministered to asylum seekers at the U.S. border in Matamoros, Mexico, in August. Since then, the number of refugees camped near that border crossing has swelled from 500 to 4,000.

Pastor Rogelio Pérez of Iglesia Bautista Capernaum in Brownsville, Texas, ministered to asylum seekers at the U.S. border in Matamoros, Mexico, in August. Since then, the number of refugees camped near that border crossing has swelled from 500 to 4,000.

A surge of refugees and falling temperatures have created a new set of needs for churches ministering on the border at Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, reported Fellowship Southwest immigrant ministry volunteer Ray Furr.

Furr and his spouse, Jeni Cook Furr, coordinate volunteers for Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Ministry. This week, he traveled to the border, where he met with two pastors who provide significant ministry to asylum seekers on the border—Carlos Navarro of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville and Rogelio Pérez of Iglesia Bautista Capernaum. 

The numbers of immigrants encamped in the area has skyrocketed in the past two months, Furr reported. When an FSW team visited the city in mid-August, about 500 immigrants camped near the Mexico-U.S. bridge in downtown Matamoros. This week, about 4,000 immigrants gathered there, and the estimate of refugees scattered across the city ranges to 15,000, he said. 

Mexican government officials have allowed Central American refugees—until recently retained in the state of Chiapas, on the southern Mexican border with Guatemala—to migrate north, Furr learned. 

“Rogelio said there’s not a space near the border that’s not covered with tents or tarps,” he reported. “And Carlos said that, given the number of refugees there and the pace of their asylum hearings, the situation could remain the same for two years. And it could get worse if significant numbers of new immigrants arrive.”

Iglesia Bautista Capernaum, where Pérez is pastor, joins with local congregations, as well as other compassionate groups, to feed refugees on the Mexican side of the border, since they have no way to prepare their own meals. 

Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville, which Navarro pastors, has established an immigrant respite center. When refugees who have been granted asylum hearings cross the border with their court dates and bus tickets in hand, West Brownsville and Navarro feed them, provide showers and fresh clothes, offer first aid and give them an opportunity to take a nap before heading out to live with sponsors as they await their hearings.

The city of Matamoros reportedly plans to establish a centralized shelter miles from the border, but significant questions and issues remain, Furr said. Will the shelter provide food for the immigrants? If not, how will the churches and other groups—many from Brownsville—get food to the immigrants, when they would need to cross the city to reach the shelter? Many immigrants feel safe along the border but fear kidnappings by cartels if they move into the center of the city. Immigrants who have applied for asylum and are awaiting the next step in the process fear being left out if they’re not near the border when their time comes.

“For now, it’s just wall-to-wall people, waiting to see what happens next,” Furr said. 

And while supplies of food are sufficient, the churches need other supplies in order to serve the immigrants. Specifically, they have requested:

  • Diapers, particularly for 3- and 6-month-old babies.

  • Baby wipes, which are valued highly, because parents do not have running water for bathing their children.

  • Fleece hoodies and T-shirts for children.

  • Fleece hoodies and T-shirts for adults, in sizes extra-small, small and medium, and a very few in large.

  • Panchos also would be helpful when rains blow in.

These supplies can be shipped to Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville, 925 W. St. Charles St., Brownsville, TX 78520.

Fellowship Southwest continues to provide financial support—for food, supplies and general operating costs—to our partner churches that minister to immigrants along the border. To contribute to the FSW Immigrant Relief Fund, click here.

Jay Pritchard