Seeing at the Borders
I was a part of a delegation from the General Board of Church and Society to have an immersion experience in learning and being present on the Mexico Texas southern border October 21-23, 2018. All throughout the trip we heard, “We need more eyes watching what is happening at the border and in the courtrooms” because the presence of the church makes a difference in the outcome for others. But I often found myself asking, “Do we really want to see?”
Seeing something for what it is takes intentionality. Seeing can be hard. Seeing can be painful. Yet, I am convinced our seeing, as people of faith, is imperative.
When we look we will see the complexity of immigration in our world and the ways it impacts life across our globe. I don’t pretend to have the answers. I don’t pretend to see through anything other than my own privileged and unique lens. Yet, I do long to see more objectively and clearly…so I am trying to educate myself on issues of justice facing our world. Here are some of the things this trip has invited me to see more clearly, prayerfully and intentionally.
When walls are erected it does ecological and environmental damage as these unnatural barriers create dams in communities that perpetuate flooding and stops migratory patterns of multiple species causing further harm to endangered species. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trumps-wall-could-cause-serious-environmental-damage/
When walls are erected it cuts communities in two causing division and separation that previously had friendly borders where relationships flourished, economies benefited and children played. http://time.com/4509501/donald-trumps-border-wall/
Violence against women is being perpetuated and endured without prosecution and punishment. Many women begin birth control months prior to fleeing their countries for asylum because it is expected and known that rape is imminent in their journey. Many do not have access to reproductive healthcare once they realize they are pregnant from their perpetrator. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/central-america-migrants-rape_n_5806972.html This summer Jeff Sessions broke with decade old policy and declared that gang violence and domestic violence were not cause for entry as asylum seekers…https://www.aclu.org/blog/immigrants-rights/deportation-and-due-process/jeff-sessions-slams-door-immigrants-desperate This only perpetuates the harm of systematic and institutional oppression of women around the globe.
Unfortunately despite what our intentions may have been our country has connections to many of the root causes for the migration of people from poor and violence stricken countries in Central and Latin America. Many USA corporations previously took land in Central and Latin countries to be used for growing our crops, reducing the resources and economic benefits of those countries to commodities needing to be purchased from the USA. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/books/review/Kurtz-Phelan-t.html We also provided training for Latin American military personnel in what was called the School of Americas…known by critics for its tactics as a school for dictators, torturers and assassins. https://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=81917&page=1 The US has been criticized for its role in creating the Latin American gangs that are now driving so many desperate families to seek asylum in the USA. https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24771469.html
People leaving their native lands are often fleeing violence and extreme poverty. The gangs described are not like the gangs of America…which are dangerous enough. They are organized crime infiltrating the highest levels of government and life. They think nothing of raping you in-front of your children as a threat or kidnaping your child and when you can’t pay the ransom, dismembering them in-front of you…all stories we heard while at the border. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-drug-cartel-suspected-in-massacre-of-72-migrants-2010aug25-story.html
We are violating the Geneva Convention for asylum seekers. As you cross the port of entry bridge to come legally into the US from Mexico, Border Patrol has set up a metering checkpoint under the veil of blue tarps. Metering is when you intentionally weed out those seeking asylum and then tell them before they cross onto US soil to go back and wait because asylum cases aren’t being processed at this time. This is breaking international law. It is a human rights violation to refuse to allow someone to declare asylum and give them a credible fear interview. And it's happening every day…I walked through one of the checkpoints. While visiting in Mexico we came upon a group of 23 Cubans who had been journeying up to 4 month through the jungles and urban cities to get to the US with young children. They had been told to go back and wait. https://theconversation.com/a-guide-to-the-geneva-convention-for-beginners-dummies-and-newly-elected-world-leaders-72155
We are criminalizing asylum seekers. When people are told to wait on the Mexican side…there is no shelter. They are out of resources, there is no food unless someone gifts it to them. Eventually many become so desperate they attempt to swim the Rio Grande to declare asylum but this is illegal entry and considered a misdemeanor. They are immediately picked up. Children are then separated from their families while adults are prosecuted. Hundreds of cases are being prosecuted everyday since Zero Tolerance has been instituted as policy. Public Defenders shared that they are not really able to attend well to violent or serious crimes because their days are now filled with first time offenders swimming the river. While, yes people with prior criminal records do try to enter our country in small percentages, the VAST majority are young persons or families with NO prior record what-so-ever. They simply are fleeing harm and when not allowed to claim asylum and enter legally they get desperate enough to enter illegally…and thus become a ‘criminal’. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Trump-pressing-for-mass-criminalization-of-11962046.php
Families are still being separated. When families enter illegally and the adults are prosecuted, even if their cases only take 4 hours and their sentence is ‘time served’, their kids are loaded onto buses and shipped to detention centers for minors all around the country…often without the parents understanding they will not get their children back when court is complete. Many times without the proper paperwork to establish which children belong with which parents. The children become considered ‘unaccompanied minors’ but they WERE accompanied by their parents until they were forceable removed from their parents. Hearing the stories of parents NOT getting to say goodbye to their children was so reminiscent to the stories I read at the Equal Justice Museum in Montgomery where a woman sold into slavery tells the story of her daughter being sold at auction and being refused to even let her hug her goodbye. Utter inhuman treatment. I was also struck by how as a nation when the recent documentary BlackFish was released about the policies of Sea World and the capture of Orcas, we cried out STOP this and regulation changed. Orcas can no longer can be caught in the wild and separated from their pods because we recognize the trauma. What about human families? Do they not also deserve to not be separated! https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621065383/what-we-know-family-separation-and-zero-tolerance-at-the-border
This is racist…once again. There is no way around that these issues are systemically directed largely to brown and black skinned people. We aren’t concerned about our northern border. When crossing the Mexico border I was first in my group and I only needed to gesture that I did have a passport…the mid-bridge checkpoint never even looked at it. Because of my blond hair, blue eyes it was understood I was American and could cross. When entering the second checkpoint the Border Patrol guard referenced how I looked “trustworthy”. What makes me look trustworthy? Yet other darker skinned members of my group did not hear the same statement. https://www.raceforward.org/press/statements/systemic-racism-root-latest-exec-order-immigration https://www.kcet.org/shows/socal-connected/immigration-101-racism-in-the-history-of-immigration-policy
And maybe one of the most difficult aspects to see for me is just how complex it all is particularly when our minds want to figure out who is good and who is bad. We want to say there are good and bad people on this side of the issue or on that side of the border. But the truth is there are just people on all the sides and across all borders. People are complex. We are always a mixed bag of good and pure motivations and selfish and cruel motivations. This is clear at the border and it is clear in the jobs being done at the border. There are people doing their jobs with integrity and compassion even as they deny someone status and there are those who are not. It isn’t easy to figure out one another's motivations or the power we have to change things. It is complicated…YET we as people of faith must all agree there are more human and dignified ways to treat people regardless of how or why they try to enter our country. As Sister Norma with Catholic Charities said, “We must restore human dignity”…I believe that means we must restore ours and theirs. https://www.npr.org/2018/02/06/582706287/former-agent-says-border-patrol-does-good-work-but-there-s-tension-there
This trip has been full of hearing the most devastating stories of loss and trauma from largely mothers and fathers who have born abuse in the bodies and been pulled a part from their children. This trip has been full of meeting heroes working hard to do their job, striving to provide justice for all, and a compassionate witness to the image of God in each of us. This trip has been for nothing, if as people of faith, we cannot move to action to stop the possible atrocities that could come if we do not change our course and see ALL people as full of worth and in God’s image. If we continue to be embolden by our nationalistic rhetoric and forget that we are first allegiant to the Gospel of LOVE born incarnate in the fragile humanity of a refugee named Jesus…we will be doomed to repeat our worlds worst sins.
Please write your representatives, write your Bishops and call for compassion and justice. Ask them to hold the US accountable to following the Geneva Convention to not impede persons from seeking asylum…but welcoming them and doing due diligence in hearing their case. And if you are able…head to the border in 4-6 weeks to bear witness to how we will handle the caravan of asylum seekers and immigrants. What if for every person coming to cross and every person deployed there was someone of faith coming to bear witness, offer compassion to ALL and be the tangible expression of love. They will be arriving as we are close to entering the season of Advent when we remember that Jesus and his family knows what it is like to hear…”There is no room for you in this Inn.” We must be another pair of eyes on the border…we must stand up and speak out for one anothers humanity…for the sake of us ALL and for the sake of the Gospel.
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