Pastors and churches have been banned from helping the thousands of illegal immigrant children housed in border detention facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, clergy in Texas and Arizona tell me.
“Border Patrol told us pastors and churches are not allowed to visit,” said Kyle Coffin, the pastor of CrossRoads Church in Tucson, Arizona. “It’s pretty heartbreaking that they don’t let anybody in there -- even credentialed pastors.”
A public affairs officer for the Border Patrol confirmed that ministers and church groups have been banned from the Nogales Placement Center.
“Due to the unique operational and security challenges of the Nogales Placement Center, religious services provided by outside faith leaders are not possible at this time,” the Border Patrol told me in a statement. “However, CBP’s chaplaincy program is supporting the spiritual needs of the minors for the limited time they are at the center.”
Coffin and a group of pastors from the Tucson area were hoping to provide spiritual encouragement and friendship to the hundreds of illegal immigrant children housed in a detention center in Nogales.
“It’s pretty ugly down there,” he told me. “They’re packed in there like sardines.”
Coffin said he was having lunch with four other ministers when they started tossing out ideas – ways their churches might be able to be an encouragement to the children being held.
One of the other ministers placed a telephone call to Border Patrol and was turned away. So Coffin decided to make a telephone call, too – and what he was told was startling.
“They flat-out said no,” he said.
What about just a pastoral visit to encourage the children?
“They said no,” he said.
What about allowing pastors to pray with the children?
“There was an immediate no,” he replied.
The message was clear – men and women of the cloth were not welcome at the border.
“That frustrates me to no end, to be honest with you,” Coffin told me. “It drives me absolutely nuts that our government would turn us away.”
He said churches are not even allowed bring soccer balls or play ping pong with the illegal immigrant children.
Pastor Coffin even asked if they could provide the children with toys, blankets and food. But the federal government’s response was the same – no donations allowed.
“We just wanted to go down there and have a presence because we care about people,” he said. “That’s all we wanted to do. For the church to be available sends a message that the church cares.”