YARMOUTH — Members of the First Parish Congregational Church recently traveled to San Antonio, Texas, where they worked with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to provide direct support to newly arrived immigrants.

Among those taking part in the mission trip was state Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who said she went to the border to “bear witness to what is going on and to help shine a light on the situation there.”

While the national debate rages over what do about the influx of immigrants – including a threat this week by President Donald Trump to close the southern border with Mexico – the group from Yarmouth got a chance to cut through the noise and meet personally with those fleeing their homelands.

Sue Inches, who also went on the mission trip, said the group also volunteered at Corazon Ministries, which supports the homeless with free breakfast, a health clinic, a clothing exchange and more.

In addition, several people from the Yarmouth group traveled to Port Arthur, Texas, which was decimated by Hurricane Harvey in the summer of 2017 and is still struggling to recover. They helped rebuild homes impacted by the storm.

Cooper said the group from Yarmouth slept on cots in the Sunday School room of the Travis Park Church in San Antonio and met with others who are providing resources and assistance to immigrants.

Inches said the group from Yarmouth found itself “moved by the magnitude of the immigration crisis and by the compassion and dedication of volunteer groups who are trying to help.”

She said part of the reason members participated in the mission trip was to learn about immigration firsthand, share what they learned with those back in Maine, and determine what might best be done locally to assist and support asylum-seekers.

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition formed in the summer of 2014 in response to the large number of unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. from Central America.

Since then the nonprofit has transformed into an organization that’s dedicated to “meeting the changing needs of asylum-seekers, refugees and at-risk immigrants,” according to its website.

Among the coalition’s goals are serving the basic needs of immigrants while also educating members and others about the issues surrounding immigration.

Inches said what the group from Yarmouth learned is that immigrants are coming to the U.S. as governments and economies in Central and South America “are collapsing, creating violence, lawlessness, poverty, and hopelessness.”

“This is truly a humanitarian crisis,” she added. “This problem will only continue and perhaps worsen unless something is done to stabilize these countries.”

Inches said the group also learned about a network of organizations across the U.S., both faith-based and secular, that are all working to support asylum-seekers.

Inches said most of the immigrants are refugees from Central America who are attempting to “escape violence and extreme poverty in their home countries,” which is why the majority are also arriving with their families in tow.

Inches said the group from Yarmouth learned that fewer than 30 percent of asylum-seekers are allowed to enter the U.S. and it can take decades before asylum is granted.

After an often-harrowing journey, Inches said many immigrants are then released into local communities, such as San Antonio, with no food, water, or money. In fact, she said, anywhere from 20 to 200 people are dropped off by government agents at the bus station in San Antonio daily.

“Imagine being dropped at a bus station in Bulgaria, with no knowledge of the language and no money, and you have to get to Norway. This is the situation asylum-seekers find themselves in,” Inches said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Members of the First Congregational Church in Yarmouth recently traveled to San Antonio, Texas, where they worked with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to fill backpacks to be given to newly arrived immigrants. The backpacks are filled with necessities such as water, food and a warm blanket.

Sue Inches, a member of the First Parish Congregational Church in Yarmouth, recently went on a mission trip to Texas with a group of others from the church. Their goal was to learn about the immigration crisis and meet with new arrivals to hear their stories.

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