EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Rosalio Sosa has a long history of missionary work on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The El Paso Baptist minister has delivered aid to the poor in the mountains of Chihuahua, provided assistance to migrant shelters in Mexico and, during last year’s migrant surge, procured food and comfort for hundreds of families released from U.S. detention centers.

“Serving is my passion, it is my life. I take the example of our Lord Jesus Christ who teaches us we are in this world to serve,” the pastor of Tierra de Oro (Land of Gold) Baptist Church in East El Paso said.

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So when members of a drug cartel last December allegedly burned down the migrant shelter in Palomas, Mexico, authorities there turned to Sosa for help.

“That area has always been a corridor for human-smuggling and drug activity by the cartels,” Sosa said, adding that migrants returned from the United States need a safe place to avoid victimization. Palomas is a small border town in the desert south of Columbus, New Mexico.

The El Paso pastor quickly took up the challenge, calling on his congregation and groups like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas for support.

A Mexican immigration officer (center, orange shirt) walks among the migrants at the Tierra de Oro migrant shelter in Palomas, Mexico.

He procured a small empty building from the city of Palomas, brought in furniture and blankets and established a working relationship with authorities on both sides of the border. By mid-February, he was opening the doors to an average of two dozen migrants a day being sent back to Mexico by U.S. authorities. That number has only grown since beginning the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They are sending back people at all hours of the day, including minors. We are getting 40 to 50 new arrivals each day. Right now, I’m trying to buy tarps because we have some people sleeping outside,” he said.

And he built a fence around the building because the Tierra de Oro shelter is drawing the drug cartels like flies to honey. One time, a pickup showed up with the driver urging people to get in if they wanted to make money crossing drugs into the U.S.

On three occasions, gang members posing as migrants gained access to the shelter and tried to talk the men into working as drug mules.

“They have tried to recruit people. They have sent in infiltrators. We know them by now and we run them off and tell them to stay away,” Sosa said.

Asked if he fears for his safety, he said: “We really don’t think about that because we are there to serve. What’s going to happen is going to happen. […] Whoever needs our services, we help them.”

Sosa says he’s more worried about dwindling resources and the health of the migrants due to COVID-19.

“It has deeply affected us. Groups who were coming to help us (from the interior of the United States) have stopped coming. Also, people are very afraid about getting sick,” he said, adding he’s tried to keep the shelter clean and stock up on supplies and personal protective equipment. He’s even taken classes on CPR and infection control.

“Thank God we have been able to establish sanitary controls” and prevented outbreaks, he said.

The children also cause him much concern. Some are coming with emotional trauma and quickly routed to the DIF children’s agency in Palomas. “I don’t think they should be sending children back like that. We’ve talked to (Mexican) authorities and they’re talking to (American) authorities,” he said.

And while some guests in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) program are in for the long haul, most of the migrants stay on for a few days before resuming their journey, or giving up and asking for bus fare home.

Still, all of them are in need of three warm meals a day, Sosa said.

Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Population Council, which works closely with migrant shelters, said Sosa has helped not just one but several shelters in Mexico.

“We recognize his work on behalf of the migrants. He has helped provide for a network of 15 shelters throughout the state,” Valenzuela said.

For more information on the mission, you can contact Sosa as rosalio.sosa27@gmail.com or visit the El Paso church’s Facebook page.

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