Mercy Without Borders
By: Christy Staats
Eddie Rodriguez was not a stranger to the ministry, so when his friend called him in March of 2021 saying he needed to check in on migrants that needed help in the border city of Reynosa Mexico, he responded with a visit.
Arriving alone at 10:30 pm, he was struck by the image of approximately 25 people sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes with blankets. The weather was cold. As he came closer he asked who they were and where they were coming from.
Eddie told me they didn’t want to answer because the cartels were kidnapping people from that area outside of the immigration area offices in Reynosa. Different sides of the cartels would steal other people’s merchandise. They took turns kidnapping destitute migrants for ransoms of $1,500-$3,000 as they waited in Mexico in hopes of being invited in after being expelled under Title 42, a pandemic-era U.S. health policy that sent migrants away rather than allowing them to seek asylum in the U.S.
When Eddie said he was a pastor, “they chose to trust me,” Eddie continued. They said they were from Central America. He asked, “Who is hungry?”
“I didn’t have a lot of money on me but took the kids out and got 20 hotdogs and left them.” When I got back to the car, I felt good for doing a good act for the day, but I heard the Lord say, ‘What are they going to have for breakfast tomorrow?’”
Mercy Without Borders was born later in 2021 out of Eddie’s encounters with the needs of people that month. Almost 18 months later it has served hundreds of migrants. They support a church plant of Haitian migrants that have church services in the open; Eddie sometimes preaches or plays the guitar for worship. Eddie and those who have gotten involved have responded to the needs they saw before them from providing food, securing and paying for toilets, to giving accommodation and partnering with American lawyers and Rotary clubs. They now have a governing board to oversee finances and give advice.
Eddie says of that during the first 24 hours, “I was fighting with God because I knew it meant a bigger responsibility. I wrestled with God about it because it meant a lot of risk and money and investment and I didn’t feel like I had enough. But God said to take one step at a time.”
I had enough for breakfast and bought eggs and chorizo and tortillas and my mom made egg and chorizo tacos. The next day after we fed them and rested. I felt they needed clothing and food. They didn’t ask for money at all but they asked to be cared for. I posted on Facebook that day and asked if anyone wanted to help. I thought many people would say not to help them, but instead, people wanted to help. They saw people coming to the U.S. but didn’t know how to help so people started giving money and clothes that week. Two weeks later, one of the families called me after they had escaped from a warehouse where they had been kidnapped and held. The guy watching them got drunk and so they escaped. I gave them food and backpacks because the little they had, they lost.
Over 10,000 incidents of violence were reported between 2020 and 2022 while migrants remained in Mexico due to Title 42. According to Eddie,
As people were turned away under Title 42 in the U.S., Mexico allowed them to return to their countries on buses, but after a few weeks, they were not allowed to board buses back because they were illegally present in Mexico. They have to get a permit and pay for their ticket back to where they came from and many were out of money. There wasn’t a lot of communication or information and because of that people got caught in the middle of the US and Mexico’s changing immigration policies, not knowing what is true.
While Central Americans fleeing gangs have often been a large reason for migration to our southern border, demographics have been changing as geo-political situations change abroad. Many of the people coming to the border are not Central American. There have been more migrants coming from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela due to deteriorating conditions in those countries according to changes in migrant demographics on the border.
The global refugee crisis has now hit a high of 100 million displaced people both within their countries and abroad. The pressure of so many people fleeing conflict, governmental collapse and corruption, hunger and natural disasters are an opportunity for Christians to respond like Eddie – to see the need and to rally others to join and respond to the need.
I asked Eddie what he thought needed to happen. He said they discovered that people believe lies about the process of getting into the US. They need to understand how they can and cannot immigrate and what documents are needed. On the other side, cartels will take advantage of people who do not know that information and offer to take them to the U.S. Eddie wants to see Mexico invest more in immigration processes into Mexico so some of these people can stay and be integrated better. He also sees mercy being historically one of the U.S. strengths.
We need the US government to increase immigration judges, adjudicate asylum claims faster, and have processes for people to access the U.S. refugee resettlement program closer to home, and end Title 42 so mercy can continue to be how we are known. If Congress reforms our broken immigration system, we can create more pathways so people can fly to the U.S. with visas in hand, ready to work, rather than rely on cartels and making the dangerous journey across Mexico, seen as the only route to safety from collapsing countries like so many from from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba this year. We also should support ministries and servant leaders like Eddie Rodriguez who courageously answer God’s call to serve the vulnerable migrants along our border.
Christy Staats is from Stow, Ohio, and went to Miami University. She worked as a missionary with Cru for 15 years, 11 of which were in the UK and is now affiliate staff. She helped create Crossings, a refugee ministry for her church in 2015 and Cru’s IIR (int’l, immigrant and refugee) initiative simultaneously. It was in training churches in northeast Ohio in cross cultural ministry to help them get involved in welcoming refugees that she discovered our broken our immigration system. She now does advocacy work that includes mobilizing churches, encouraging distinctly biblical responses to the challenges and opportunities of immigration in the U.S. She is finishing her Masters in Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.