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A Brooklyn pastor talks about his church's efforts to help migrants


We're going to return now to one of this country's most emotional and challenging issues - immigration. Governors in several border states have been busing arrivals to their states to large cities on the East Coast. But months into this, some cities are still scrambling to offer adequate services to people. New York, for example, could end up spending a billion dollars this fiscal year in support of these migrants, which the city's mayor, Eric Adams, has called unsustainable. And at the same time, the Biden administration is moving to make it easier to bring migrants from a few countries to the U.S., as long as they have family in the U.S. to support them.

Much of the work supporting migrants so far has fallen to faith groups and other organizations, so we wanted to talk to someone who's been a part of this network for some time. Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz is a pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. That's in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. And he's with us now to talk about his efforts to help and what he's seeing. Reverend Juan Carlos, thanks so much for joining us.

JUAN CARLOS RUIZ: Thank you. It's great to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So as we were saying, some 50,000 migrants have made their way to New York over the past year. Many people have been bused from states like Texas and Florida. Would you just tell us some of the stories that you've heard from them? What are some of the circumstances that brought them to New York?

RUIZ: So many of them are coming, you know, with their whole families. So you're talking about children in their arms, tracking through jungles, being chased by cartels - I mean, horrifying stories of bodies being found in the jungle as they go up the mountains, as they cross rivers. So this is really a human catastrophe.

MARTIN: Talk about some of what awaits people when they're coming to New York. I mean, we get the sense that that you and other people in the community have just really been struggling to keep up. So, you know, are there services out there to meet people, to help them get settled? Like, how does it work?

RUIZ: Many times, it doesn't work, and that's where we come in - you know? - as communities of faith. Unfortunately, they are coming into a housing system that has been overwhelmed. And so people are scrambling just to find some firm footing - you know, a dignified place to rest. What we see is that many people are disconnected, disoriented, misinformed. After traveling on food for two months, three months, they need a place that they can feel secure.

MARTIN: What are some of the things that you and other members of the church do when people come to you? How do you help them?

RUIZ: So we've been giving them out phones, metro cards, food - warm food. Many people complained that in the shelter system or in the hotels that they've been placed, they don't have spaces to cook. So, yes, we have the abuelitas, you know, the grandmothers in our communities basically cooking for them and being family to them - anything that humanizes because we have to remember this is a humanitarian crisis.

MARTIN: You know, the Biden administration has expanded temporary protected status to provide relief to people from places, you know, that are experiencing instability like Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, I think Ukraine. I was wondering, how have you seen that play out on the ground? Because there are a lot of people who have family members from these countries, but a lot of people really took a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. You know, a lot of people's hours were cut, that - you know, some people lost their jobs. And I'm just wondering if you are hearing from people who would like to perhaps help family members, but they're struggling themselves. Can you tell me anything about that?

RUIZ: In our church, in our community, we have a mixed population, so we have a lot of undocumented people who have been living in the shadows for the last 20 years. There is a great deal of frustration to see that some people are coming in - you know, the recently arrivals - that have a protected status, while they themselves, who are growing families here, who have been paying taxes for the last 20 years, there is nothing for them. So the tension is really being exacerbated.

MARTIN: How does that play out? Like, what kinds of things are you hearing about that? For example, just - I'm just saying, an acquaintance of mine was telling me that, you know, his father has relatives back in the home country. And the father has been here for some time, was able to attain legal status, has raised his family and would like to retire. But now the family members who are overseas want him to sponsor them. And he just feels exhausted, and he just feels so conflicted that he doesn't know what to do. And I was just wondering if you are hearing stories like that.

RUIZ: All the time, Michel. I mean, we are hearing not only those stories but stories of a great deal of extending that generosity that this country has extended to people in the past. But, you know, how do they pay back that? You know, they come because they say, we want to make this country great. We don't want to take anything away. And we have seen this in the past. And they say that to me - you know, this is the land of opportunities. We know that we have a shot in this. So they come with a great sense of hope.

MARTIN: That's the Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz. He's currently a pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He's also the co-founder of the National New Sanctuary Movement and the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. That's an organization led by and for immigrants who are facing detention and deportation. Reverend Juan Carlos, thanks so much for joining us.

RUIZ: Thank you, Michel. Great speaking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.