The Border Lands: Part 1

Very early this morning, my housemates and I returned from Mexico. We unloaded the van and pulled everything inside, before going to sleep and letting everything wait for the sun to come up.

We spent the past week in Tucson, AZ, Douglas, AZ, and Agua Prieta, Sonora with our fellow YAVs from Denver and Agua Prieta to explore and experience what it means to live in, and be a part of the Border Lands. I’m going to write two posts about this week, one today and another for tomorrow, so that you have the chance to absorb, and a chance to pause between my reflections.

“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta, an open wound, where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds, and before a scab forms, it hemorrhages again, the life blood of two worlds merging to form a third country, a border culture.” -Gloria Anzaldua

We began our journey in an Operation Streamline courtroom in Tucson, and then worked backwards into Mexico. But for this post, I’m going to begin in Mexico, and let you travel this journey as someone doing so for the first time.

We have to ask ourselves, what are borders? Why do we construct them? And what are our fears?

Tuesday, we drove to the Border on the American side; spoke about what it looked like to us and what it felt like. The slats were wide enough for me to stretch my arm through; wide enough to clearly see into Mexico but of course, not slip through. We prayed at the wall, were asked to touch the weathered metal and pray for the healing of the Border. I wrapped my arms around one of the slats and leaned my cheek against the rough surface. For so much sun, the metal was still cool to the touch.

That evening, we participated in a weekly prayer vigil remembering the names of the migrants who have died in the desert area of Agua Prieta/Douglas. Each name was written on a cross with the day of their birth and death recorded, or No Identificado, for the individuals who were never identified. We took turns calling out the names and answering “presente” to the others. An hour’s worth of names. An hour’s worth of lives lost in the last few years, called out and remembered. I felt myself mourning most the lives lost who were not ever identified and I mourned for their families who are waiting to hear from them and never will. And will never know….

Wednesday we drove into the desert to a migrant camp. Two gentlemen from a drug and alcohol rehab facility, CRREDA, refilled the two giant water dispensers that are maintained at the camp. Then as a group we walked along the trail from the camp to the Border. The route went over a railroad bridge, into a narrow high walled creek bed, and up and down crevices in the earth. The trail was full of brambles and thorn bushes, and loose soil to lose footing on. The sun was high overhead, but the air was cold, and I shivered as we wove through the desert quietly, hands outstretched to help each other on uneven ground. There was an eerie presence I felt hovering as we hiked; knowing that people had walked the same trail hours before us, and when night cloaked the sky in the evening, there would be many more walking this last mile before crossing over the Border in complete darkness and silence. As my site coordinator mentioned, places like Concentration Camps have the distinct feeling of the suffering of the past. But on that migrant trail, I knew that the fear and danger and suffering was/is a very present thing that surrounded us. I felt myself fading into the reality of an immigrant crossing into the US: thorns tearing at their skin, shoes filling with sandy soil, throat dry like sandpaper. Shivering, skin gritty with dust. What kind of fear do they feel, slipping through the pitch black of night, eyes straining to see the ground in front of them, and praying praying praying that they do not fall or misstep? Do their hearts pound wildly? What do they feel when they see that wall? As we approached the Border at the end of the trail, I felt my own throat tighten, though I had seen the same wall the day before. But that was from the American side. And this was not. We could see the dusty footprints on the wall, and the scratches from the fingernails of those who have climbed up and over. As I stood staring, and laid my hand against this side of the wall, I felt my heart pounding. Because regardless of the journey up to this point, the real danger begins the moment they cross that wall. Not only are they still in the middle of the desert, but they have to watch every step they take. They are being hunted and followed once they step foot on American soil. How can a person be strong enough to make this journey? And who is the victim and who is the abuser?

We had the chance to speak to three border patrol agents throughout the week on different occasions. I find it all to easy to blame them for the injustice of immigration laws, but that is not the reality. They can only do what the government requires of them whether they believe it’s wrong or right. All the fault and change lies in Government. And it’s complicated. Many of these immigrants are victims of ‘Coyotes’ and other guides who exploit their vulnerability and desperation. Many migrants are not prepared for the journey. Almost all just want to want to reach a country that has promise of a livelihood for their family. Many are willing to risk death, knowing that if they don’t make the journey, then death will find them and their families anyway. There are criminals smuggling drugs into the US and then there individuals forced to smuggle drugs into the country in order to keep their family from being killed by the cartels. Do we know, when we see the faces of those caught smuggling, if they are the victim or the abuser? How do we stop the bleeding in the Border Lands? There is no easy solution. There is no one answer. Can all of Washington DC walk in the desert? Can all of DC lay their hands on the walls that we’ve constructed? Can all of DC chant the names of the men, women, and children who have died in the desert? And can all of DC see people and faces instead of statistics? Probably not.

But I have.

And so have many others.

Is there an easy solution to our broken immigration system? No. But I know that the solution is not to build higher walls.. As Christians, how can we justify turning a blind eye? How can we preach “love our neighbors” on Sunday and then build higher fences to keep them out during the week? How can we cry out in sympathy for Africa, the Middle East, and even Paris, but ignore the cries coming from Central and South America? How can we love a God who loves unconditionally if we are constantly placing conditions on who we love?

There are a lot of politics in social justice, but there is also humanity. I’m asking for you to see the humanity.

Pray for our borders. Pray for healing. Pray for no more deaths. Pray for justice.

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