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Calexico rejects United Methodist proposal, returns $2 million grant

Calexico, CA – A $2 million dollar grant allocated to aid in continuing efforts to support asylum seekers will be returned to the California Department of Social Services after the Calexico City Council voted not to approve proposals from The United Methodist Church in the border town last Wednesday.  

The grant, which was to be used to set up emergency services and temporary housing while legal immigrants await transportation to their processing locations, was awarded earlier this year. The United Methodist Church submitted two proposals. The first was characterized by Rev. Baldwin Avendano of Calexico UM Mission as a “wrap-up of the uninterrupted work we have been doing since 2018,” and that the local community and broader church have been supporting with donations. The church has been helping an average of 40 individuals per month with immediate needs such as translation, clothes, hygiene products, food, and shelter, as well as facilitating transportation to their next destination. The second proposal was for a day center on the site of the Calexico UM Mission, supporting up to 50 individuals from 10am-5pm each day. 

The funding was initially requested by the City of Calexico. In 2022, the city declared the number of asylum seekers being released in the city to be a local emergency and, in 2023, approved a letter to Senator Padilla requesting the funds to support the construction of local shelters for those affected. Calexico City Manager Esperanza Colio Warren said that between 75 and 110 are dropped off in the city every day. 

In the May 8 meeting, Colio Warren shared about a lack of city time and resources for supporting asylum seekers, and that after the funding was received earlier this year, a request for proposals was released for non-profit organizations to submit program proposals to use the funds. 

Many community workers from partnering non-profits spoke in favor of the proposal. Pastor Matteo Mamea of Community UMC of Borrego Springs, shared that his church has been serving as a 72-hour temporary shelter for those in transport to their destination for asylum processing. He described a network between the Methodist churches in Calexico, Borrego Springs, and Baldwin Park. But it’s not just United Methodist Churches, he says many in his town have come together to help: “all of these churches have sent volunteers and members to help serve three meals a day, to do their laundry, and then to do the bedding.”  

Hilda Cruz, the Regional Program Director for the Inland Empire at the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, drove four hours to show support for the proposal. She, too, has seen and helped with supporting asylum seekers in recent years, and spoke to the potential of the funding: “I was very happy to hear that there was two million dollars that was allocated for the city of Calexico, and I thought “Wow! If so many things have been happening without all of those fundings, I can just imagine what that money could do”…I firmly support this funding, and I invite you today to keep it, to begin allocating it to the United Methodists as seed money that will grow.” 

During his public comments, Avendano shared anonymized photos of young families from Jalisco, Colombia, and Haiti who were supported by the church’s work. He concluded with an impassioned call to remember that we are all one community, saying, “If any of these individuals was your hermana, was your hermano, your children, would you tell them “you don’t have a place here. Stay there in your country, stay where you are. There is not a place for you here.”  

Other public commenters raised concerns about ongoing funding, security for local residents, the limited scope of the request of the proposals, and zoning. Public comments were largely in support of the work, with some asking for the items to be tabled and only one asking for the proposals to be rejected. In a swift decision after comments, the city council voted two to one not only to reject the proposals from The United Methodist Church, but also to return the funds, with Council Member Camilo Garcia having the last word: “let’s help ourselves first, before we can help someone else.” 

Rev. Dr. Denyse Barnes, Director of Justice and Compassion at the California-Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church, shared that “this is such a devastating loss. Pastor Baldwin has worked so hard on this. We had great ideas for a tiny house-type shelter—there are no other shelters in the city,” but that it won’t stop their work. “We want to meet people where they are arriving, to tell them they are safe and to help them get to their next destination.” said Barnes. 

Avendano shared that the church receives calls from sources including individuals, other non-profits, and city services, asking for support for individuals and that “we have done it with a heart of compassion and mercy, and we will continue to do it.”  

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