12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[a] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
Ephesians 2: 12-14, 19
In early February, YAGMéxico packed up and flew out to Arizona for a week on the US-MX border to learn about immigration, but was so much more than just learning.
Expressions of passion, gratitude, hardship, pain, and joy in the organizations, residents and migrants we met imprinted on our hearts. We pressed against the rough burnt red iron posts of the wall, el muro, between the US and MX on both sides. In the sand and bristly bushes of the desert we understood the wall was really just that, a wall. The frigid air chilled our lungs in the morning and evening while the dusty heat of the day dried us out. Stories of injustice and hope, en español and English, complimented other stories, books and documentaries we watched. The silence of the desert we shouted away in remembrance of our passed on hermanas y hermanos on the road to the port of entry.
To try and explain all this week was for me and mis compañeras y compañeros in a two page newsletter would be an injustice itself so I invite you to read more on my blog and the blogs of my fellow YAGMs who have written wonderful and moving things about the border retreat. I understand many of you will have political beliefs that chafe with what I have to say, but I hope you slip on different shoes for awhile and walk with me.
Before the sky could crack its blackness with the infallible morning sun, I walked through security and onto a plane headed out of Mexico City in my converse, wearing down by frequent use on dirty streets. The most uncomfortable part of my 4 hour journey was when I feel asleep my mouth got dry.
In Mexico wearing old tennis shoes, ones that need to be tossed since they’ve well out preformed 750 miles, on a well mopped tile floor I heard a witness of a recovered drug addict. “Hola me llamo [Carlos] y soy adicto/ Hi my name is [Carlos] and I’m an addict”. He’s turned around his life and now is living to help others. We walked around and met people in the rehab center CRREDA, and accidently muddied up a recently mopped floor.
In the same old tennis shoes I was led by members of CRREDA alongside my YAGMexicos from water tanks they fill to el muro, the wall.
We walked in the desert. It felt a little like bush whacking from backpacking this summer but flat and more thorns. By el muro we read Ephesians 2: 11- 21 and I thought: We have the opportunity to sit here and contemplate the metaphorical implications of the wall. But the migrants? Better get a move on before Border Patrol gets ya. That, or they are so tired and dehydrated there is no energy to be wasted thinking. You just gotta get over it to the next section of identical desert.
On our way back we saw foot prints. Bare, with socks hastily strung aside. Did someone just flee our sounds? Maybe they grabbed their shoes but left their socks. Maybe they were taking a few moments to relieve growing blisters. These fresh footprints reminded us we are outsiders on this path. This time I didn’t muddy up the floor but mixed my footprints in with thos
e dusty footprints of the weary and desperate on their way with hope of a better, safer life. Imagining this journey through the desert as the better/safer option chills me.
I shook the sand out of my shoes that night. Isn’t it funny how fast I am able to shake such things off and out? That’s because as an outsider I have the privilege to go to sleep without thinking of such problems.
My converse carried me through the halls of the new border patrol station in Douglas, typical clean blue pattern carpet and beige walls adorned with photos and inspirational quotes that both made sense and made me sick. We listened and learned the facts and figures, the US gov’s perspectives. We questioned and looked. We couldn’t however go to area where they detain “illegal entrants” because a group was caught the night before. The same desert and same day we walked there.
Once again in my graying converse I walked into the court house, legs moving freely. And I saw them, mis hermanos. They had been in the desert while I flew, in the desert while I walked by, in the border patrol detention area while I held back my angry doubt and asked polite questions. Now they are chained at the ankles, waist and hands. 5-7 at a time led up to the judge with lawyers earning minimum $125/hr standing behind them.
Did you know the average length of a criminal trial is between 22 and 24 weeks? Did you know all 44 of you were sentenced in under an hour? Did you really understand the technical English terms the judge and lawyers spoke, what you pleaded culpable to? Did you feel the weight of the sand in your shoes or was it the weight of devastation that all you had sacrificed to get here, all you had been through, all you had set your hopes on in getting into the USA led you to this? 180 days in a private jail as criminal and a quick deportation after. I bet you’d be sick knowing that the US government spends $170 million on putting people like you through Operation Streamline in Arizona annually, to reject you rather than to provide you with safety or food for your family…
I clenched my hands tights, closed my eyes, and tuned out the trials. I am witnessing the clearest form of systemic sin I have ever encountered. Lord, I do not even feel worthy to ask for forgiveness.
“Operation Streamline is an initiative of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice begun in 2005 with the intention of establishing “zero-tolerance” immigration enforcement zones along the US-MX border. Under OS, unauthorized migrants face criminal prosecution and potential prison sentences in addition to formal deportation and removal from the US. OS has drastically increased immigration prosecutions, making ‘Illegal Re-entry’ the most-commonly filed federal charge.” Each OS court can try up to 80 defendants per day in the en masse hearings. Source
I walked just as easily out of the courthouse as I walked in. I walked onto to a plane back to
Mexico looking down on the vastness of the Sonoran desert, now feeling shame for the complaints of my dry mouth on my previous flight. I may have shaken the sand from my shoes but I cannot shake this experience from my mind. I cannot shake my citizenship of a country that is struggling with creating positive solutions and support for such a large issue. I can only walk and listen, then tell and hope that maybe a different side of the story will become a larger part of our nation’s immigration narrative.
In peace and prayer,
Anti-immigration initiative: Café Justo
I think the unofficial title in my head for Café Justo is ‘the best anti-immigration initiative’. Café Justo is a cooperative in Agua Prieta working with coffee farmers in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas. By buying coffee beans at just prices as well as giving a fair portion of the sale after roasting to the farmers, Café Justo supports the farmers (significantly more than Fair Trade) and allows them to remain on their land, practicing more environmental practices and avoiding the necessity to migrate elsewhere in order provide financially for their families. Café Justo does not advertising yet their sales are increasing due to the quality and acknowledgment of sustainable practices. Please consider advocating the switch to Café Justo coffee in your work, churches, and homes. http://www.justcoffee.org/
If ever time was a metaphysical notion, that was it: when good and evil were separated by a man-made frontier. Any frontier is man-made, and yet, on one side people died, while on the other they went on living as though the others didn’t die.
Elie Wiesel, Sanctuary