Rio Grande bishop expresses horror at deadly shooting of migrants in West Texas

Posted Sep 30, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] Two men were arrested this week after they allegedly opened fire on a group of migrants who were getting water at a roadside in West Texas about an hour southeast of El Paso, killing one and injuring another.

The suspects in the Sept. 27 shooting were identified as Mike Thomas Sheppard and Mark Edwards Sheppard, both 60. Mike Sheppard reportedly is warden of the West Texas Detention Center, a privately run immigration detention facility. Both were charged with manslaughter.

The group of migrants were walking along a road near Sierra Blanca and stopped at a water tank around 7 p.m. when a pickup truck approached them, according to investigative documents reviewed by The New York Times. One of the men in the truck yelled “come out” in Spanish before revving the engine, and then two shots were fired.

Bishop Michael Hunn of the Diocese of the Rio Grande issued a statement on Sept. 30 expressing horror at the attack. His diocese includes most of New Mexico and the westernmost region of Texas, including where the attack occurred. The Diocese of the Rio Grande also has been active in ministering to migrants and asylum seekers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The following is the full text of Hunn’s statement.

As the Episcopal Bishop of New Mexico and Far-West Texas, I was horrified to learn that yesterday that the warden of a private migrant detention center and his brother allegedly shot at a group of human beings getting water at a water tank just south of Sierra Blanca, Texas, killing one and injuring another. They were soon apprehended by Border Patrol Officers they are now in the custody of law enforcement in El Paso, Texas.

As a citizen of United States of America, I call upon the Federal Bureau of Investigation to thoroughly investigate this incident. Given what has been reported by multiple outlets, this attack has all the hallmarks of a hate crime. I call on the Congress of the United States to pass meaningful comprehensive immigration reform which upholds safe and secure borders, prosecutes those who break the law by trafficking in drugs, weapons, and human beings, and treats all human beings- especially vulnerable people seeking work or asylum in the United States- with respect and dignity.

I also call on our federal authorities to fully audit, report on and respond to the practices of privately owned, for-profit, migrant detention centers like the one operated by the accused, where reports of dehumanizing and degrading behavior are all too common.

As a follower of Jesus Christ and bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, I must remind all faithful people that the Christian and Jewish scriptures implore us to see ourselves in the plight of the migrant – Adam and Eve, evicted from the Garden of Eden must start over and work hard tilling the land. Abram and Sari are told by God to “get up and go to the land I will show you.” Noah’s family, escaping a flood, took all the ark would carry and traveled over the waters seeking safety. Moses was floated across the river by his mother so he wouldn’t be killed. He was raised hiding his identity, like an undocumented person, and he was raised by a sponsoring family. Joseph was sold into slavery and trafficked into Egypt. Joseph’s family became climate refugees, forced by famine to come begging into Egypt where they met Joseph again. Ruth’s famous words, “whither thou goest I will go, your people will be my people,” speak to so many. She had to live off the grain left in the field until she married into a local family.

There are so many stories like these in the Holy Bible, and they have been told time and again as a reminder to all faithful people that our story is the story of migrants and refugees. That God is with them, and we, as followers of the God of Abraham are to be with them too.

Violence such as this is a product of voices seeking to dehumanize our neighbors. To see them not as beloved children of God, but as a problem to be eliminated. This kind of thinking is, sadly, not new to us in the Far-West part of Texas. The lives lost at the Porvenir Massacre of 1918 and Cielo Vista Shooting of 2019 speak to more than a century senseless violence rooted in the same dark legacy of dehumanization that we must name, and that we as the faithful people of the Borderland must have a part in ending.

People of faith must recognize the fundamental dignity of every human being and stand up against all forces that dehumanize people. Those of us living in the Borderland must work to end this long history of racism against those who cross our border, and those whom our border has crossed.

Dear people of El Paso and Far-West Texas, let us all work together to create a Borderland that celebrates life this beautiful place where people and cultures meet, and make this land a safer place to live by ending the forces of violence that divide us and destroy our public safety.