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United Methodist relief group grants $1.1M to help asylum seekers amid border crisis

The United Methodist Committee on Relief has awarded a $1.1 million grant to Church World Service to help asylum seekers on the southern border and elsewhere in the United States.

At its spring meeting held in March, the UMCOR leadership approved the grant to support CWS’ “Leading with Welcome” program, which aids asylum seekers with case management.

Erol Kekic, senior vice president for the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service, told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday that the funding will help expand the program to meet a growing need.

The grant comes at a time when thousands of unaccompanied children are in U.S. custody amid an upswing in immigration in recent months.

The program already operates in the surrounding metropolitan areas of Jersey City, New Jersey; Miami, Florida; and Houston, Texas, according to Kekic, who said that it provides “case management for asylum seekers as well as access to either free or low-cost legal services.”

“As the situation escalated at this point in time with the numbers at the border becoming more pronounced than it has been in the past, the need was clearly there to continue to expand this program, to serve more people that are coming across,” Kekic stated.

“Without access to some sort of a system that is inclusive of legal support and some representation, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for asylum seekers to get the legal relief they need.”

Kekic said that the plan is to “expand the number of ‘slots’ that we have available for case management and try to offer services even outside of these three areas through our network of local affiliate offices.”

“We hope that people will follow suit and join us in this endeavor to try to create a more welcoming community in the United States after years of mistreatment and failed immigration policies implemented by Stephen Miller and the Trump administration,” he stated.

Roland Fernandes, general secretary of United Methodist Global Ministries and UMCOR, explained in comments emailed to CP on Wednesday that they were originally planning to offer a grant of $100,000 but changed course when an “additional request” came in.

In addition to the expanded case management, the approved grant will also provide Leading with Welcome with the means to hire additional staff to help at United Methodist Church-affiliated border shelters. The additional staff will help improve shelter operations, infrastructure, transportation and bed capacity.

“UMCOR is one of the member communions of CWS and has a long-standing relationship with the organization. We have worked together on several programs, and in recent years we both have been working to help asylum seekers on the border,” explained Fernandes.

“It’s part of our DNA since we were both founded during World War II to help people dealing with similar circumstances. We are helping restore the infrastructure needed to help people crossing the border and are glad to move forward in a way that will have such an impact.”

In the aftermath of World War II, 17 denominations formed CWS to “do in partnership what none of us could hope to do as well alone.” Those things include feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and sheltering the homeless, among other things.

Fernandes also told CP that he was hopeful that “things will get better after what happened the past four years” as his organization seeks to “rebuild a humane immigration system so that no matter who is president, the situation at the border does not worsen.”

While liberals and humanitarian groups that advocate for refugees and immigrants have been critical of the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies aimed at thwarting smuggling and illegal immigration through the southern border, conservatives have argued that the Biden administration’s reversal of Trump policies has not helped when it comes to the recent spike in immigration at the southern border.

In February, more than 100,000 people were detained at the southern border. By comparison, there were 36,687 immigration enforcement encounters on the southern border in February 2020.

During a March 25 press conference, Biden said that the spike in border crossings tends to happen in the winter months of January, February and March. He claimed that “nothing has changed.”

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