The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island says he is heading to the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana to assist the caravan of several thousand migrants from Central America who hope to apply for asylum.
The Right Rev. Lawrence Provenzano said he plans to help the migrants cross into the United States to apply for asylum and possibly physically protect them from armed anti-immigrant militias who may try to prevent their entry.
“Travel with me and stand, literally stand, between these vulnerable people and the people with guns — to keep the vulnerable safe, to shield them, to escort them as they seek asylum and provide for them the dignity and care of brothers and sisters in Christ,” Provenzano told about 500 people Friday at a convention in Uniondale celebrating the 150th anniversary of the diocese.
The migrants, many of whom left from Honduras in mid-October, now number about 5,000. Hundreds arrived in Tijuana last week, with more on the way. They include many women and children.
President Donald Trump has labeled the caravan an invasion that threatens U.S. national security. He has deployed 5,600 soldiers to various points along the border and changed asylum rules to try to prevent the migrants’ entry. He has said he may send up to 15,000 troops.
Provenzano said the migrants “are being vilified and disparaged by a nationalist administration here, which is now permitting armed, civilian militia to join the thousands of military personnel massing at the border to prevent them from entry to request asylum." There have been reports of armed civilian groups from the United States traveling to the border to meet the caravan.
The bishop said he expects to travel to the border in early December, and that already a dozen people at the convention, along with several Episcopal bishops, have taken up his invitation to join him. He expects to stay there one to two weeks.
It was not entirely clear what they will do at the border, though Provenzano said he and the others probably will enter Mexico and escort the migrants to the U.S. border as they seek to apply for asylum.
He said the activists will not engage in or condone any illegal activity such as jumping the border fence, and that applying for asylum is a right protected by U.S. and international law — whether or not it is granted in the end.
Religious and pro-immigrant advocacy groups are organizing the support effort at the border, which likely will also include helping the migrants fill out papers for asylum, said the Rev. Marie Tatro, the diocese’s vicar for community justice ministry.
“It’s about witness and putting our bodies between what we think is an absurd, oversized military presence and a bunch of families who are just fleeing for their lives,” Tatro said.
In an interview, Provenzano said, “From a religious perspective it is a gospel mandate that we help those who are seeking asylum. … It’s time for the church to be the church. We can’t stand by and watch this unfold.”