CRISIS ON THE BORDER: Tiny Texas church risks everything to help migrants
El Elyon Church of God lost most of its members for the decision but said it wouldn’t change anything
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -El Paso has become one of the busiest border communities in recent months.
Border Patrol agents have apprehended a record number of migrants along the Rio Grande River that separates Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico from the United States.
Community shelters and churches have opened their doors to help house the thousands of people who are released by immigration officials to await their court dates.
One church risked its own livelihood to lend a hand.
El Elyon Church of God is ran by pastor Maribel Velazquez and her husband Osbaldo.
For weeks, Border Patrol dropped off migrants by the bus load.
Velazquez says 7,886 people went through the church’s shelter and a majority of the church’s membership left when the migrants arrived.
“We’re not going to give offerings, we’re not going to support the church, because all these people are destroying the building,” she was told.
Left with just 12 people, the remaining members of El Elyon are now making tamales and enchilada plates to pay the bills.
Velazquez said the support offered at her church went far beyond a place to sleep.
As a former nurse, Velazquez converted an alter to a makeshift clinic to help treat migrants and let them call their families.
“We had no money, we had nothing, we just had to do whatever we had to do to help them survive, especially the babies,” said Velazquez.
She still keeps in contact with some of the families who have moved on with their sponsors to different parts of the country.
During her interview, she FaceTimed with a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala named Luis.
He and his father are awaiting their immigration court date in Washington.
Luis said an immigration lawyer will cost around $10,000, but he has told his dad they are going to work hard to stay in America.
Luis plans to start school next month and hopes to go to college to become a lawyer.
He said he wants to return to El Elyon Church one day.
Velazquez said while the migrant drop-offs have slowed, immigration officials have told her and other shelters to be on standby.
Despite its struggles, El Elyon Church will open its doors again when the calls comes.
“We’re here, we’re more than welcome to receive them and help them,” Velasquez said.
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