Pastors, churches not allowed to minister to children at U.S. immigration camps
Pastors in Arizona and Texas reported this week that they have been denied access to immigration camps.
The immigration camps house thousands of illegal children, mostly from South American countries. The pastors said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will not allow any visitors at the Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
"Border Patrol told us pastors and churches are not allowed to visit," Pastor Kyle Coffin of Tucson's CrossRoads Church told Fox News about the Nogales Center. "It's pretty heartbreaking that they don't let anybody in there—even credentialed pastors."
The Nogales Placement Center houses nearly 1,000 children from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries. CBP confirmed that clergy are not allowed inside the 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," they said 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."
The pastors also asked if they could bring toys, clothes, food, and other items for the children, but were denied.
"We just wanted to go down there and have a presence because we care about people," Pastor Coffin said. "That's all we wanted to do. For the church to be available sends a message that the church cares."
A counselor at Lackland said that she has never seen a minister at the immigration center.
"We had suggested they bring in a priest on Sunday," she told Fox News. "Instead, they had a girl playing a cassette tape of Christian songs. They denied those kids the opportunity to be with a minister.
"It was heartbreaking. The church needs to become involved. The spiritual needs of these children need to be tended to."
BCFS, a non-profit that runs the Lackland immigration camp, told Fox News that they now provide religious services and Spanish-language Bibles for their 1,200 children.
Pastor Coffin said that it is the job of churches to take care of people.
"Back in the day, if you were in trouble and poor, the first thing you thought of was going to the church," Coffin said. "Whether it was for food, clothing, shelter or helping pay bills – the church was the front line. Now, it's the government who is the front line.
"We think the government is equipped to do what they were constitutionally created to do – and not do the church's job."