At the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tucson churches are taking in asylum seekers.
Desert Southwest Conference
Hundreds of people a day are fleeing across the Southern Border into the United States. There is a current wave of people coming from Central America, many single parents with children. Large numbers are also coming from Mexico and a few from other countries throughout the world. People are escaping from violence, war, political persecution and extreme poverty. Most of these people are apprehended. Mexican nationals are returned to Mexico. and others are placed in detention.
In early December 2016, a high-level official from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contacted Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church. ICE predicted an influx of Central American single parents and children seeking asylum at the border. The ICE official went on to explain the shortage of detention space as well as the desire not to place parents with children in detention centers or merely drop them off at bus stations and Walmart parking lots to fend for themselves. This problem occurred a few years ago and caused considerable human suffering. Many refugees, most unable to speak English, were stuck in bus stations and parking lots, abandoned for days, trying to maneuver this strange world. Fortunately, several faith communities, including some United Methodist churches in Tucson, organized to assist people at the Greyhound station in Tucson.
The ICE official asked Bishop Hoshibata if there might be churches in Tucson that would be able to take in the asylum seekers who would soon arrive. The request was for each church to take in as many as fifty people. Bishop Hoshibata asked churches to respond.
In Mid December 2016, Rev. Beth Rambikur of First United Methodist Church Tucson called an emergency Council meeting following Sunday worship. There was much discussion. How many? Don’t know. What are the costs? Don’t know. Will ICE help pay the bills? No.
It was Christmas time, and the conversation soon congealed around welcoming the stranger. Over Two thousand years ago Mary and Joseph had to flee their home to protect the soon to be born Christ Child. They were asylum seekers in a strange land. When the birth was imminent, the couple sought shelter at an Inn. There was no room for them.
Stepping out on faith and hope, First United Methodist Church Tucson was moved to make room at the Inn. Plans for a shelter, called the Inn, in the church basement began.