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Dallas Church Prepares To Receive More Asylum Seekers

Associated Press
A migrant family from Central America waits outside the Annunciation House shelter in El Paso, Texas, in 2018. Migrant families are being brought to Dallas, as the El Paso center is full.

When 56 asylum-seeking migrants arrived in Dallas, they were greeted in their native Spanish.

“Bienvenidos (Welcome).”

One by one, they stepped off the bus that had taken them from El Paso to North Texas.

“But then something happened after maybe the first five people got off,” said Gregg Alan Smith, associate pastor at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church.

“There was this one lady, and she was trembling and crying, and she reached out and hugged one of our volunteers,” Smith said. “And then everyone that came off the bus after, they gave us these hugs and I can’t tell you how visceral that reaction is.”

The Oak Lawn church is serving as a respite center where migrants can get food, clothing and medical attention. The effort is part of a multi-faith initiative known as Dallas Responds.

The migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border from Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela. Another group is expected to arrive on Saturday and more will come to Dallas over the next 90 days. They’re coming to North Texas because the El Paso shelter, Annunciation House, is at capacity.

Shelter officials reached out to the City of Dallas and faith-based groups for help.

Once in Dallas, the migrants spend the night in area hotels as they wait to be connected with a sponsor or family member in the U.S.

“You can see kids rolling toys down the hallways,” said Pat Jones, community relations director for the church. “Yesterday they went out on the playground. They just felt at home. They felt the love.”

Organizers of the effort aren’t allowing reporters interviews with the asylum seekers. But Pastor Smith said church leaders want to get a message out.

“I really wish that the folks who say that they are against this, I wish that they could have been there because these are humans who need help from other humans,” Smith said.

People seeking help, he added, don’t need to be turned away.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.