Claims that Title 42 protects Americans from foreign criminals ignore the realities of migrant life at the U.S.-Mexico border, an immigration advocate and attorney recently told a Baptist Sunday school class in Texas.
The fact is that the drug cartels and the criminals associated with them can kill, rape, extort and kidnap at will in parts of northern Mexico where they regularly prey on migrants, said Elket Rodriguez, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving migrants and the churches that help them at the Southern border. So, the last thing criminals operating with such impunity want is to contend with American law enforcement, he said May 22 while speaking to Discovery Class, an intergenerational class at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.
“If you are a cartel owner, if you work for a cartel, you do not want to come to the U.S. You’re doing fine over there,” he told the hybrid session led by Mark Wingfied, executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. The current focus of the class is a study on “strangers” and “aliens” as related to biblical texts.
Rodriguez also referenced Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a drug kingpin extradited from Mexico to the U.S. in 2017 and subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 30 years: “Did you see ‘El Chapo’ trying to get to the U.S.? No. He was trying not to get extradited to the U.S. So, this narrative that criminals are the ones that are coming, it’s totally false.”
Instead, most migrants and asylum seekers are faithful Christians, including single men often fleeing recruitment by the cartels. Ironically, this population is highly targeted for expulsion from the U.S. under Title 42, he added.
“When you ask these guys why they refused the cartels, they say it’s immoral. When you go deep, they have Christian values,” Rodriguez said. “That is why they are not joining the cartels. So, the ones they are expelling are people like you and me, who would say, ‘No, I would rather flee than do your bidding.’ And so, we are actually expelling Christians.”
The expulsions will continue now since a federal judge recently blocked the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42 on May 23.
Title 42 was an obscure federal health code until 2020 when the Trump administration transformed it into a tool for expelling mass numbers of asylum seekers on the pretext of preventing the spread of COVID-19. The American Immigration Council estimates that close to 2 million expulsions have been carried out under the policy since the pandemic began.
Because most of the returnees are not Mexicans, being returned to northern Mexico drops them in a dangerous foreign setting that can best be described as “cartel territory,” Rodriguez said.
“Title 42 is putting migrants into the hands of cartels to be exploited.”
“I’m sorry to share this, but what we’re seeing is many stories of rape, kidnappings, exploitation, torture,” he said. “In reality — it’s going to sound cruel — Title 42 is putting migrants into the hands of cartels to be exploited.”
The difference makers are the churches and pastors on both sides of the border who minister to these and other immigrants, Rodriguez said.
“Once a migrant is in the U.S. … there are more resources and safety. But once you are being expelled back to Mexico and left out there on the streets, that’s another situation. Communities in northern Mexico, at these border or sister cities, are responding to that.”
Rodriguez said he has witnessed that loving response firsthand through his through his work with CBF and Fellowship Southwest, which together provide financial, advocacy and logistical assistance to these overwhelmed faith communities.
He recalled a pastor in Matamoros, Mexico, who “told his members, ‘You know what? We have hundreds of Haitians on the streets. We need to open our homes.’ So, a lot of their church members said, ‘I’m going to open my home. I’m going to allow this Haitian and her daughter and her son to live with us.’ That’s what gives a lot of migrants hope, because there are people out there helping them.”
But some churches in Mexico, like their U.S. counterparts, are not welcoming of migrants, he said. “There are churches that say, ‘I am not going to get into that.’ And there are others who say, ‘I will welcome them.’ As Hebrews says: ‘They welcome angels.”
Those who do give themselves in serving immigrants often are motivated by the immediacy of the need of migrants living in their communities, by family focused Hispanic culture and by faith, Rodriguez explained. “It is either ‘I help, or I don’t.’ It’s that simple. So, for these pastors it is, ‘I am going to go and help and the money will come because God is the creator of everything.’”
Wingfield asked Rodriguez how European Baptists opening their homes to Ukrainian refugees compares to the situation in northern Mexico. He responded with biblical references to the people of God having been “strangers” themselves.
“They are dealing with what’s happening in their communities and they have to respond from a Christian perspective. That makes them go to the Bible and say, ‘Hey, the Bible talks a lot about this.”
7 reasons to calm down about the termination of Title 42 | Opinion by Elket Rodriguez