My year as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Tucson, Arizona is officially underway. These past three weeks have been filled with a mix of joys, challenges, and everything in between. Yet one common thread that has defined my time here thus far is firsts. As a YAV in Tucson, I have experienced foreign and new situations on an almost daily basis. Below, I will reflect on some of my most significant firsts during my brief time here.
First Time in a Desert
During my first few days of exploring Tucson, a thought kept running through my head: “where is the green in this barren city?” Coming from a city of trees and manicured lawns, the site of dirt and gravel stretching in all directions was a stark change. Upon looking at a map of the city on my phone, I noticed several blue lines running through Tucson. Recalling the rivers and watering holes that dotted the Central Texas landscape, I was eager to see a splash of blue in the desert. However, every time I rode over one of those blue lines on my bike, I found that they were simply dry creek beds, and water only runs through them a few times a year. It was during these moments that I fully began to understand just how different of a place I had entered into. Three weeks in, and I still sometimes miss the site of grass or a flowing river, but I am no longer think of Tucson as “barren.” The city is abound with various types of wildlife, flora, and natural splendor. It is simply different than where I came from. Then, just today, I drove over a fully running river. It was full from a day of rain, and was strikingly beautiful against the backdrop of the rugged desert landscape. As my time here progresses, I hope to continue to find beauty in the desert.
First Time at CHRPA
For several weeks now, I have worked as a volunteer for Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. This organization provides free emergency home repairs and handicap modifications to low-income and elderly residents of the Tucson area. As I have no previous handy-man or construction experience, everyday at CHRPA brings a new first. So far, I have had to learn how to fix a cooler, build a wheelchair ramp, replace a toilet, install a new sink faucet, and put in a door. Other new experiences this job has brought about include waking up before the sun rises, biking to work, and riding the bus. To say I am out of my element would be an understatement. It is hard work, and sometimes I feel like I get in the way more than I help when making a repair. I also find myself tired, sore, and most of all, hot. All this being said, I am amazed at the knowledge and passion of my coworkers and the lengths they go to in order to help the residents of Tucson. I have only begun to see the impact CHRPA has on people’s lives, and while it is difficult work that often leaves me frustrated, I feel proud to be part of this organization.
First Time at an Immigration Shelter
During our first week in the city, the Tucson YAV house volunteered with the Inn Project. The project is run through First United Methodist Church of Tucson, and provides a shelter for primarily Central American asylum seekers recently released from detention. Most refugees stay in the shelter before going on to their families in the United States who they will be staying with while their asylum application is processed.The shelter is set up in the church’s basement, and provides individuals with a place to sleep, three meals a day, and food and water for their upcoming journey. On the day we volunteered, 42 individuals were residing at the shelter. Immigration is an issue that I have learned about primarily through my wife, Dakota, who has worked extensively with immigrant communities through various non-profits. However, this was my first time being face to face with people who had just been released from immigration detention facilities. With my limited Spanish, I struggled to communicate effectively with those we were helping, but all expressed immense gratitude towards us for volunteering. Most were families, and all seemed tired yet excited to soon have the opportunity to see their family in the United States. As I was leaving, I had the feeling that if more people could spend a few hours with those most impacted by our immigration system, the debate surrounding immigration would be quite different.
First Time Fixing a Flat Tire
Finally, I fixed my first ever flat tire on a bike during this past three weeks. In fact, I fixed my first nearly two weeks ago, and have since had to fix four more flats. With a plethora of thorny plants and frequent potholes, Tucson may well by the flat bike tire capital of the United States. These flat tires shattered my vision of what community by bike would be like. Before I started as a YAV, I had an hour round trip commute in my car, and I was eager to trade driving for the simplicity and free exercise that come with biking. It turns out, bikes are not the simplest of machines to maintain, and just like a car, regular maintenance is required. On one particularly hot day, I found myself changing a flat tire on the side of a busy street. At that moment, all I wanted was my car, which happens to be sitting with my parents a thousand miles away. The very next day however, I found myself biking to work with a repaired tire, a cool morning breeze in my face, and a view of the sun rising over the Tucson mountains. Often during these past three weeks, the experiences that have brought me the most frustration and the most joy have been one in the same.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Have a great weekend and stay cool.
Doy gracias a Dios por la vida y la salud que nos presta y sobre todo por permitirme ser voluntaria en el programa YAV gracias a esto he visto y he aprendido demasiado, claro que aveces no es fácil pero de alguna manera salimos dando lo mejor; el mes pasado tuvimos la oportunidad de ir a la frontera a una introducción fronteriza y lo que aprendí fue impactante aparte he estado viendo las cosas desde otra perspectiva ya que es diferente la historia cuando estás de otro lado y en este caso yo estoy aquí como una migrante en otro país aprendido día a día las cosas que no podía ver.
Espero les guste.
La detención de migrantes en México pasó de 86.298 en 2015 a 198.141 en 2016; en los primeros siete meses de 2017 ya se han llevado a cabo 99.768 detenciones. Al mismo tiempo, las solicitudes de asilo están en aumento, pasando de 1.296 en 2015 a 3.424 en 2016; en los primeros seis meses de 2016, México ya ha recibido 3.486 solicitudes, el número más alto del que se tiene registro. Para 2016 y 2017; más del 92 por ciento de las solicitudes de asilo son de ciudadanos de Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala.
Hay, además, otros problemas de mayor gravedad, como la caza de inmigrantes por grupos de civiles, que, evadiendo la vigilancia de la patrulla fronteriza, atacan con armas de fuego el paso de éstos. Una situación que recientemente se reconoció y que tiene relación con la continuación de la violencia sobre los derechos humanos de estas personas.
Lo que a mí más me duele ver en el caso de migración es que muchos niños desde chicos ya están pensando en emigrar a los Estados Unidos y hay veces que no van acompañados de ningún tutor o alguien responsable muchas veces la misma falta de trabajo o falta de recursos te obliga a salir de tu casa en busca de un futuro mejor, una oportunidad para salir adelante, pero es en realidad un camino fácil?, además de ser engañados por su pollero o la persona que los ayuda a cruzar se arriesgan todas los hombres, niños, mujeres al secuestro , abusos sexuales, asaltos , maltrato etc.
Viendo un documental de niñas que emigraron pude ver el gran infierno que pasan ellas sufrieron abuso sexual, psicológico y maltrato pasaron por mucho e incluso estuvieron muy cerca de morir para ellas todo estaba perdido y me dejaron como un mensaje por mi mente paso ellas pasaron todo eso solo por querer oportunidades y es ahí cuando te das cuenta y te preguntas ¿Qué está haciendo mi país con esto? ¿mi gobierno sabrá de toda esta situación? Pero tristemente se ve claramente la ignorancia de muchos que están sobre nosotros. Cada vez hay más pobreza, mas corrupción, más muertes, gente que se hace más rica y sobre todo más y más ignorancia.
A pesar de esto seguimos habiendo personas apoyando esta situación apoyando a emigrantes y tratando de que menos gente muera por esta causa.
¿No podemos nosotros convencer a la gente que no emigre porque a quien se le niega la oportunidad de una vida mejor? Pero hay una cosa que creo que todos podemos hacer y eso es apoyar a que menos gente muera tratando de ir en busca de un sostén para la familia, una mejor educación, un mejor trabajo, algo mejor. Cuando tú mismo país no te lo puede dar al contrario trata de burlarse de ti poniendo más obstáculos más barreras más muros sea Dios en sus corazones y les de la visión para que se den cuenta de todo lo que está pasando afuera de sus mansiones de su círculo de niveles y sobre todo que les de la sabiduría de gobernar este país. Dios sea con nosotros y nos del corazón y la buena voluntad.
´´Por qué no nos ha dado Dios espíritu de cobardía sino de poder, amor, y dominio propio 2 Timoteo 1-7´´
A few weeks ago YAVs from Albuquerque and Austin came with us to the U.S/Mexico border on a delegation. The purpose of the delegation was for us to bear witness to the lived realities on the border and to find a faithful response as people of God. The week was transformative for me, while I am still processing all that I experienced I wanted to highlight an experience that stuck with me.
During our time in Mexico we were hosted by Frontera de Cristo, a binational ministry of the Presbyterian church. On our first night we participated in a vigil for people who have died trying to cross the border. We lined the streets of Douglas holding crosses of peoples names who have died. After each name was read we responded with “Presente!”
As we were reading the names I thought about my countries policies, and how death on the border is systemic. On our delegation we learned that in order to have fewer people cross the border, the United States created barriers so that people had to cross through the most dangerous terrain. This policy did not deter people from crossing as the United States hoped; but it did increase the death rate along the border dramatically. With each name that is read I know that my country is directly responsible for their death.
At the end of the vigil our leader ends with “Jesucristo.” We respond “Presente.”
Jesus is present on the border. He is with those who are crossing. I am reminded of the verse Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,”
As we put the crosses away and walk back to our car I thought about how I can be present in the border communities, and how I can respond faithfully.
At the end of the delegation a few of us participated in the School of the Americas watch. My fellow YAVs and I stood in front of Eloy detention center, one of the most deadly detention centers, and chanted no están solos (you are not alone). As we stood across the detention center and chanted I saw lights flicker and people move inside. I turned to my fellow YAV and asked “do you think they can hear us?” She responded “I hope so.” After a week of heart break, to bear witness and to chant in the streets, “No están solos” is to respond with the love of God.
Every person I encountered on the border whether ministry partners, someone getting ready to cross, or people getting sober from addiction I am reminded that Jesus calls us to encounter and to be present. To bear witness to the oppression on the border and the communities that are resisting is to see the face of God.
Hi everybody! The following are some thoughts I shared at First Presbyterian Church in Silver City recently, where Melissa, Jake and I were invited to speak…..
Spanish version to follow.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for inviting us here to Faith this morning. Whenever Jake, Melissa and myself meet new Presbyterian folks at different churches or YAV-related events, they usually want to know more about us, so let me tell you a little bit about myself and how I ended up in Agua Prieta, Mexico. I’m from Grosse Pointe Woods, MI, a suburb of the Detroit area, and my parents still live there. I was raised Catholic, and attended a well-known Jesuit high school within the city of Detroit. Afterwards I went to Kalamazoo College, where I studied foreign languages with a passion. (And yes, by the way, there really is a Kalamazoo! People sometimes wonder.) Because I had been to Honduras for a brief, 8-day mission trip while in high school, I knew I wanted to spend some time after college living in a Spanish-speaking country, working in some sort of social-justice related context. After graduating from Kalamazoo, I stayed at home for a couple of years, and then eventually found out about the Young Adult Volunteer program from a friend of mine.
I applied, and was excited about the prospect of having another cross-cultural service experience, this time for a full year. But I don’t think it ever occurred to me just how different this would be from my time in Honduras. I never considered that my entire time spent in Honduras with friends, classmates and teachers I already knew fell within what some call the “honeymoon phase” of life in another culture. Because it was so short, and because all the details of our time there were so carefully planned, it was like a vacation for us! And looking back, I think I was simply too young to appreciate just how difficult life could be for those who experience poverty in the Third World. But this experience has been altogether different for me; it’s put me face-to-face with people who are nowhere near home, fleeing either violence or desperate economic circumstances
Serving here in the borderlands, we hear frequently about how NAFTA flooded Mexican markets with cheap corn, and otherwise undermined subsistence farming families’ ability to sustain themselves. We hear that some choose to live behind their homes in Chiapas, Guerrero, or Nayarit, to come north and try to find work in the United States. We know that some are fleeing from violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. In the Migrant Resource Center, I encounter some of these very people every day. They may have bruises on their feet from walking in the desert. They may have broken an arm or twisted an ankle trying to climb over the wall between Agua Prieta and Douglas. They may have been deported. Or maybe they’ve simply arrived at the border, seen how tight the security is, realized how treacherous the hot desert is, and decided to stay put. And these are just the ones I see. We have relatively low numbers of migrants in AP right now, but there are many, many more in Nogales.
I thought it’d be a good idea to tell you about one person in particular I’ve gotten to know at the MRC. He arrived in Agua Prieta and first came to the Center seeking help back in October. Since then, he’s become a member of the community. Before leaving for a work-related trip to Ciudad Juárez this past week, my colleague Betto even left him in charge of the men’s shelter because we all know he’s reliable and trustworthy. But unfortunately, he’s had some hard times before finding his way to us in Agua Prieta, and even some near-violent episodes with the wrong crowrd. I discovered just the other day that, because of these events, he doesn’t even feel comfortable telling people his last name, or his full name. So out of consideration, I’m just going to call him Juan.
I had asked Juan the other day if he would share some details of his story with me, and when we finally sat down to chat, he looked out the window of our office in the Center, noticed a Border Patrol vehicle rolling along on the other side of the fence, and said, with a note of longing, and perhaps resignation,“Algún día me gustaría regresar ahí, pero… legalmente… no sé…” I think this instance is one where the unspoken speaks volumes.
Juan doesn’t know where he was born, or when exactly. And though he declined to talk about his earlier life when we spoke on Friday, I remember him saying (back in October, when he first arrived) something about how he had been brought to the United States when he was still too young to remember. He lived in San Diego and various other parts of California his entire life, before being deported recently. But when I asked him what his experience in Agua Prieta has been like, with all the people he’s met at the MRC and the Catholic shelter CAME, he said, “Me ha dado nueva vida…” (translate) “pues, estoy aquí por el milagro de Dios.” “You guys have always treated me well, and that gives me strength, and pride, and I feel good about myself.” When he was still new to the area, Juan did some construction work for a brief time, before making cardboard boxes in a factory for the LEVOLOR Corporation, an American company that manufactures blinds and shades. Neither job paid very well at all, and I remember a period of several weeks before Christmas where Juan and some others who were staying at the shelter hadn’t received any pay at all from the job at LEVOLOR- apparently, the boss simply didn’t want to pay them, and was able to get away with it, until some of our Mexican volunteers stepped in to advocate for Juan and other migrants. When payday finally came, Juan was in such a good mood, he asked me and Betto to walk down the street to Oxxo with him, and offered his own earnings to buy us each an iced tea. Currently, he has several different part-time jobs as a painter, at various primary schools in Agua Prieta, as well as the CAME shelter. In addition, he is honing his skills as a carpenter, and teaching others to do the same.
Of all those I’ve encountered this year, I see Juan as a fantastic example of someone who has accepted the support of the MRC, and turned it into something good in his own life.
But we are here to remember that many more people in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc, never get such a chance at all. And no one should ever be forced into such trying circumstances in the first place.
Hola todos! Lo siguiente es una predicacion que he dado hace una semana en la Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana de Silver City, Nuevo Mexico. Ahi invitaron a Jake, Melissa, y a mi a hablar de nuestra experiencia como Joven Adulto Voluntario….
Siempre que Jake, Melissa y yo conozcamos nuevas personas en diferentes iglesias, o en eventos relacionados con el programa JAV, normalmente quieren saber más sobre nosotros. Así que les explico un poquito sobre mí mismo y cómo he llegado aquí, en Agua Prieta. Soy de Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, que es un barrio en las afueras de Detroit, y allá siguen viviendo mis padres. Me crecí católico, y asistí a una preparatoria jesuita bien conocida dentro de la ciudad de Detroit. Después, asistí a Kalamazoo College, donde estudié los idiomas extranjeros con mucha pasión. (Y además, ¡sí que hay un Kalamazoo! A veces, la gente no se da cuenta de que existe un lugar con tal nombre…) Ya que había estado en Honduras para un viaje de 8 días, durante el verano entre mi tercer y cuarto año de la preparatoria, yo sabía que quería pasar más tiempo en un país hispanohablante después de graduarme de la universidad, trabajando para la justicia social. Después de graduarme de Kalamazoo College, me quedé en casa unos años, hasta que una amiga mía me dijo sobre el programa de los Jóvenes Adultos Voluntarios.
Solicité el programa, y me emocionaba de la expectativa de tener otra experiencia de servicio intercultural- esta vez, durante un año entero. Pero nunca se me ocurrió que esta experiencia iba a ser tan diferente de la que tuve en 2006 en Honduras. Nunca tomé en cuenta que todo el tiempo que pasé en Honduras con mis amigos, compañeros de clase y profesores que ya conocía era dentro de la llamada “fase luna de miel” de vivir en otra cultura (es decir, los principios del tiempo que se pasa en otro país, cuando todo parece lindo y perfecto.) Porque fue tan corto, y porque se habían planeado con cuidado todos los detalles de nuestro tiempo allá, ¡fue como una vacación para nosotros! En retrospectiva, creo que era simplemente demasiado joven para apreciar lo difícil que la vida puede ser para los que experimentan la pobreza en el Tercer Mundo. Pero, durante el año pasado, esta experiencia aquí ha sido completamente diferente para mí; me ha situado “frente a frente” con personas que están muy lejos de sus hogares, huyéndose de la violencia o de unas circunstancias económicas desesperadas.
Sirviendo aquí por la zona fronteriza, hemos oído decir muchas veces que el TLCAN (Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte) inundó a los mercados mexicanos de maíz barato que provenía de los Estados Unidos; así, y de otras maneras parecidas, el TLCAN socavó la capacidad de las familias agricultoras mexicanas de sostenerse económicamente. Hemos oído decir que algunos que eligen dejar para atrás sus hogares en Chiapas, Guerrero, o Nayarit lo hacen para viajar al norte, a intentar buscar trabajo en los Estados Unidos. Sabemos que algunos se están huyendo de la violencia en El Salvador, Guatemala, o Honduras. Aquí en el Centro de Recursos para Migrantes, encuentro a muchas de estas mismas personas cada día. A veces, se les han desarrollado moratones en los pies por andar tanto tiempo en el desierto. A veces, se les han roto el brazo o torcido el tobillo por intentar escalar el muro entre Agua Prieta y Douglas. A veces, han sido deportados. A veces, simplemente llegan a la frontera y deciden quedarse aquí, por darse cuenta de que la seguridad fronteriza es más ajustada que pensaban, por darse cuenta de lo peligroso del desierto, etc. Y estas personas son las pocas que encuentro yo; el flujo de migrantes aquí en Agua Prieta es relativamente bajo ahora, pero hay muchas, muchas más personas en Nogales, por ejemplo…
A mí me pareció buena idea contarles sobre una persona en particular que he llegado a conocer en el CRM. Él llegó a Agua Prieta y vino al Centro buscando asistencia en octubre, cuando nosotros JAVs acabábamos de llegar aquí. Desde entonces, se ha convertido en miembro de la comunidad. Antes de salir para una convención en Ciudad Juárez a principios de mayo, Betto lo encargó del albergue para hombres, porque sabemos todos que es responsable y confiable. Pero desafortunadamente, pasó por algunos momentos difíciles antes de llegar hasta nosotros en Agua Prieta; también experimentó unas instancias de violencia a manos de gente de mala compañía. El otro día descubrí que, debido a estas instancias, ni siquiera quiere decir su apellido a la gente, ni dar su nombre completo. Así que en este relato, por consideración, lo llamo Juan.
Yo había pedido a Juan que compartiera algunos detalles de su historia conmigo. Y cuando nos sentamos juntos para platicar el otro día, miró por la ventana de la oficina, vio un vehículo de la Patrulla Fronteriza al otro lado de la valla, y me dijo, con tristeza, “Algún día me gustaría regresar ahí, pero… legalmente… no sé.” A mí me parece una instancia donde lo que no se dice expresa muchísimo.
Juan no sabe ni donde nació, ni cuando exactamente. Y aunque no quiso hablar de su vida temprana, recuerdo que- cuando llegó en octubre- me dijo que se había llevado a los Estados Unidos cuando era demasiado joven para acordárselo. Vivió en San Diego y varias otras partes de California toda su vida, hasta ser deportado recientemente. Pero cuando le pregunté cómo ha sido su experiencia en Agua Prieta, con toda la gente que ha conocido en el CRM y en CAME, dijo, “Me ha dado nueva vida… pues estoy aquí por el milagro de Dios. Ustedes siempre me han tratado bien, y eso me da fuerza y orgullo, y me siento bien.” Cuando estaba recién llegado al área aquí, Juan hizo trabajo de construcción un rato. Después, hizo cajas de cartón en una fábrica de LEVOLOR, que es una compañía americana que manufactura persianas y sombrajos. Ninguno de los trabajos le pagaba mucho, y durante un período de varias semanas antes de la navidad, algunos alojados del albergue (incluyendo Juan) no había recibido ningún pago de LEVOLOR. Al parecer, el jefe simplemente no quería pagarles, y al parecer, se salía con la suya hasta que algunos voluntarios mexicanos nuestros del Centro se involucraron para abogar por Juan y los demás migrantes. Cuando, por fin, llegó el día de pago, Juan estaba de tan buen humor que invitó a Betto y a mí al Oxxo cercano, ofreciendo sus propias ganancias para comprarnos un refresco. Actualmente tiene varios trabajos de jornada parcial como pintor, en varias primarias aquí en Agua Prieta y también en el albergue de CAME. Además, va desarrollando sus capacidades de carpintería y asiste a otras personas a hacer lo mismo también. Él es un ejemplo buenísimo de alguien quien ha aceptado el apoyo del CRM, y quien lo ha convertido en algo bueno para su propia vida.
Pero nosotros estamos aquí para recordar a todas las personas en México, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, etc., que nunca consiguen una oportunidad así. Y nadie debe ser forzado a tales circunstancias difíciles en primer lugar.
It’s true. Kids normally say some pretty wild things. Sometimes it’s outlandish. Other times you as a family member wish that your child had learned a little earlier how to be quiet. And sometimes it’s so real and true that it blows you away. Most kids terrify me to some degree, so my interactions with them are limited. The two exceptions to that rule are my two little cousins, Lauren and Jacob. They’re essentially the most adorable and funniest kids ever (yeah I’m biased but whatever). And apparently super wise.
Earlier today my cousin Megan shared something on Facebook and tagged me in it. It was a piece of the schoolwork that Lauren, the oldest at 7, had written at school.
She may be seven years old, but she actually has a great grasp on things here on the U.S.-Mexico border. Yes I do live in Mexico and spend a lot of my time working in the U.S. But I am only one of thousands who does a similar thing every single day. I am also one of the privileged that are able to cross back and forth without any real hassle or questioning. But not everyone is as privileged as I am. Often times people are discriminated against based purely on their last name or their appearance.
It’s a shame and it breaks my heart, but it is true. I’ve seen it happen and heard stories of it happening to people I know. Lauren probably doesn’t know this, but there are hundreds of people who want to live in Mexico and work in the U.S.A. No, they do not want to live in here in the US. Their only wish is to be able to go work somewhere they will receive living wages that help them support their families that they love so dearly. And at the end of the day, these hard-working people want only to be able to return home to those families and communities that they love.
When you think about it, why would they want to live in a place like the US can often be? A place where people treat them negatively based on the color of their skin or their place of origin? A place where they do not always speak the language and even communicating at work can be a challenge? A place where the fun is incredibly different and the music is odd? A place whose leading candidate is raising an uproar against your countrymen and wants to build a giant wall between the two? I know that I wouldn’t want to live there. These are the feelings of people I have talked to during my time here. Building a wall won’t solve our problems. It won’t keep people out or keep them away. It will just cause more injury and death to people whose only hope is to provide of their family. My wonderful cousin at the age of 7 kind of understands that. She doesn’t want families separated any more than I do. I’m incredibly thankful for that and hope others can learn from her amazing example.
And as a wise old man once told us, “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”
Let’s not forget that. Thanks Lauren.
Yesterday, I participated in a Father's Day march for family unity at Southside Presbyterian Church to demand an end to the separation of migrant families due to detention, deportation, and death in the desert. Before I came to Tucson, I did not understand the complex web of immigration policies that tear families apart. After living here for a year, I have heard countless testimonies of people who have been disconnected from their spouses, parents, and children. Many undocumented parents go to work every morning with the fear they may not return in the evening to see their children.
Due to laws like S.B. 1070, police are allowed ask the immigration status of anyone they pull over, arrest, or suspect to be here without papers. If someone cannot prove they are in the U.S. legally, the police call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Border Patrol to process the individual and take them to detention, prison for migrants. In detention, migrants are often abused as they wait behind bars for months, hoping for a court date or bond hearing. If they are lucky and get a bond, they must raise thousands of dollars, which most working class migrants, do not have. For more information, please read this Center for Immigrations Studies report on detention centers.
Most detained migrants do not get access to a lawyer, do not receive a bond, and are deported back to their home countries. There, they must decide whether to create a new life in a country that may be unfamiliar, dangerous, or without jobs, or to take the perilous journey across the desert to reunite with their family in the United States. Many parents hike through the Sonoran desert, risking their lives to be with their children again. In the last 15 years, at least 2,000 migrants have died attempting to crossing the Arizona border alone. For more information on migrants deaths in the desert visit Colibri.
Why do we separate families?
Every person who has died crossing the desert was someone's child.
Every person who has been racially profiled is someone's friend.
Every person who has been sent to detention is someone's mom, dad or supporter.
Every person who has been deported is someone's partner, lover, daddy, papi, mama, mommy, tio, tia, cousin, or sibling.
During the march, we gathered at a shrine for migrants who have passed away in the desert and read this beautiful prayer:
Father's Day Prayer
God our creator, daily we call upon you and remember you as our father who art in heaven. You have known the joy of watching your child grow, of witnessing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus develop as a family or prophets who endured and challenged the oppression of their government. You Father, journeyed with them through the darkness and the light, and in the darkest of moments when your own Son was apprehended, detained, and eventually murdered, you were there in the mercy and compassion of those who worked and continue to work tirelessly to keep alive his memory and message.
As we remember fathers and all those who have embodied such responsibility, we particularly pray for migrant fathers who journeyed thousands of miles with the dream of providing for their children, but who never reached their dream. Many of them remain in our deserts simply as bones clamoring to you and us all for justice. We remember these deceased migrants fathers, we pray for the livelihood of their children and family, and we ask that you continue to make of us instruments of life and not death.
We especially pray for all those crossing the desert as we speak, those dying of thirst, those who have lost their way in the wilderness, those who are enduring brutalities, those who are locked up and treated as though they were not human. We pray for these your people, your holy ones whom you continue to send and whom we continue to reject at the border. Bless them with perseverance, light their path, direct their way, shelter them from the burning heat, and comfort them in their despair. On this father's day, may we remember that we are all brothers and sisters to each other, that I am in fact my brother and my sister's keeper, that you are Father to us all, and that ultimately, we are all migrant families journeying home. May the courage of migrant fathers be also our courage in the struggle for justice and peace. Amen.
Alison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Church, ended the march with a great rallying cry to help us recommit ourselves to welcoming our neighbors and fighting with our migrant brothers and sisters for justice. I am thankful for the active community members of Tucson who come together, time and time again, to advocate for the just treatment of God's people.
Recently, I was at a Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Mexico sharing a meal with a migrant family. I was there as a part of an intense study of border issues and ministries on the Douglas, Arizona/ Agua Prieta, Sonora area. Although, I had spent the whole week with a large group of Young Adult Volunteers from the Tucson and Denver, this moment was all about the family sitting across from me.
As we ate our pasta and sipped our sugar-infused juice, we began to talk about where we came from and why we were here in the dusty border town of Agua Prieta. The father of the family, Ronald*, was charismatic and friendly. His big green eyes glittered as he excitedly told me that he and his family of four were going to cross the border in the upcoming week. His glee was uncontainable. Ronald and his wife, Maria*, animatedly walked me through the details of their itinerary.
When their coyote (human smuggler or guide depending on your perspective) contacted them, they would drive out into the desert where they would climb over the border wall using a ladder. Then, they would walk through the harsh terrain, in the dark to the closest American town, Bisbee. When they assured me it was only a ten-hour hike, I began to get uncomfortable. This would be a fast-paced hike. Ronald described how they would have to follow the exact footsteps of their guide to avoid alerting Border Patrol motion detectors or heat sensors. After arriving in Bisbee, they planned on taking a van to Phoenix, then Las Vegas, and finally Indianapolis to meet his sister. I wondered how they would do this, as there are Border Patrol checkpoints on the only road out of Bisbee where the guards check for identification. Maybe they’ll take a dirt road. Maybe they’ll hide in the trunk or under the floorboards of the car as some migrants do…
By now my heart was racing. I was worried for their safety and worried that their coyote had mislead them so I asked, “Is it worth it for you to endure this dangerous trip?” Ronald replied with an absolute, “Yes.” Even though he is leaving a good job as a nuclear electrician and his eldest son is leaving college, he believes he can have a better life in the United States. This family lived in Veracruz, one of the most violent states in Mexico. Ronald and Maria said they live in constant fear of the cartels. Ronald confidently said, “I would rather be captured by Border Patrol than the cartels any day.” Having a good job in Veracruz actually makes him a liability, as the cartels are most likely to extort money from him. It is a paradoxical situation with little hope of changing any time soon.
After we finished dinner, I thanked Ronald and his family for their honest conversation and wished them the best on their journey. But saying, “Safe travels” did not suffice. I kept thinking about them, worrying about them, and praying for them.
Please let Ronald, Maria, and their two sons find a peaceful, dignified life. Please help them find their way through the desert. May they be protected from abuse from their guide or Border Patrol. God, everyone deserves a dignified life and an opportunity to raise their family without fearing for their lives. Please protect this family and help them safely reach their destination.”
And what happens if they make it to their final destination? If they find jobs they will forever work in the shadow class, afraid of deportation. Will the son who was in University in Mexico, be able to get an American education or will he be resigned to minimum wage labor for the rest of his life?
Even if this family fears deportation and works hard for low wages, this is probably better than living under the reign of a violent cartel. Due to my privileged and limited perspective, I did not realize that what may seem horrible to me may be a relief to another person who has suffered far greater challenges than I have.
This is blind privilege is one of the many reasons why we do not know how to “secure” our border. In the 90s, Operation Gatekeeper and other similar policies were enacted to reduce illegal immigration. The Border Patrol focused its resources on securing metropolitan areas, while leaving the unpopulated desert areas less patrolled. The official plan was “attrition through deterrence” as Homeland Security thought that the desert would be a natural and obvious boundary for migrants. This thought process makes sense when coming from a privileged American who is unaware of the conditions of poverty and violence in parts of Mexico. Yes, desperate hardworking people who cannot find jobs or fear their lives will cross, even if it means risking their lives. In fact, many people like Ronald see the cacti-laden desert to be a small challenge compared to their daily lives back home.
We will not be able to create just, holistic immigration reform until American politicians are aware of the root causes of immigration to the US, the current socio-political climate in Mexico and Central America, and what people are willing to give up. Ronald sacrificed his job, home, and son’s college education to climb a wall, walk in the dark, and work minimum wage jobs in hopes of a safer, more dignified future.
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
“Therefore, remember that formerly you are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands)- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostle and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God live by his Spirit.
*For the privacy of these individuals, I have changed their names.
While the cross is a very strong symbol for many Christians and other people including myself I usually have seen the cross mostly as a sign of hope that was used to defeat evil and sin in this world. However, since being orientated to the borderlands in both Tucson and then Douglas and Agua Prieta I have gained a new understanding of the cross. In most protestant Christian traditions you will see empty crosses. And from my understanding this represents that while Jesus was crucified for the sins of humanity, it is now empty because he died for our sins and then was raised from the dead, which gives hope and a new beginning of being free from our eternal bonds of sins. I believe all this to be true, but I also now see the crucifixion of Jesus in a new perspective from my short time already here. In most Catholic Churches and some Presbyterian Churches on the border the cross is not empty, but has Jesus being crucified on the cross. For many people this represents the daily crucifixion of poverty that campesinos (peasants) and the poor suffer. Therefore, the cross is not just a symbol of hope from the bondage of ours sins, but that Jesus continues to be crucified though the lives of the poor. Jesus reveals this to Christians in Matthew 25: 40 and it demonstrates why Jesus is still being crucified through the suffering of the poor.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
I think this realization for me on how the cross today offers hope, joy and peace, but also represents the continuing suffering of people whom God loves has helped me understand the border more in the contexts of my Christian faith and know that God is present in both the joy and suffering I see and feel on daily basis here. I feel that my work with Frontera de Cristo is seeking and being where God already is on border.
For me and anyone on the border both the joy and the pain are very visible here. For example, immigration is something that can provide someone with a better life or it can bring more suffering to a person. In Agua Prieta many people in my church community come from the southern state of Chiapas in Mexico. Chiapas according to Coneval (the social development branch of the Mexican government) in 2012 had the highest rate of poverty of any state of Mexico at 74.7%. While translating this week for Prescott College students on a border delegation I have found out that many of families in our church from Chiapas ate a diet only of beans. None of the families owned their own land so the children spent little time with their fathers often because the fathers had to work long hours for little wages in agriculture.
However, when the families migrated north to work in the maquiladores (factories) here in Agua Prieta, they were able to earn higher wages (these wages are still considerably lower than minimum wage in the U.S. and make it difficult to provide for a family) so they could buy meats, fruits and vegetables while working only 40 hours a week. Many of the families now also own homes thanks to joint private and government housing programs. Along with all my brothers and sisters at the Presbyterian Church El Lirio de Valles these families have made Agua Prieta an extremely warm, loving and supportive place for me to live. Their joy, humbleness and kindness for others seems to touch every group that does a border delegation with Frontera de Cristo. And their concern for their brother and sisters in Chiapas has resulted in the creation of the fair trade coffee company Cafe Justo, which provides higher wages for families who cultivate coffee. I think it would very hard for anyone to come to the border and meet these families, and not feel like there is hope for this world.
These families who have came to Agua Prieta to make it their home is just one example of the joy and hope I see everyday on the border. But I also see a lot of suffering of people on the border also, one example of this is also migration. The migrant resource center is a place for migrants and people who have been deported from the United States. As an intern with Frontera de Cristo one of my duties is to serve there for one day along with many other volunteers in the community. It is here where we help people who have had their dreams and hopes of a better life crushed, people who have been separated from their families by force, people have been kidnapped and tortured in the desert
and families come to look for their lost ones. In many ways it is a place of deep pain and suffering of people caused by humans themselves through poverty, violence and unjust laws. However, it is in the suffering that is felt by these migrants that God is also present. One lady who had been separated from her family in United States and felt that she had lost all hope after her deportation described the migrant resource center as a place that was like being in the arms of her mother again. So even in the amidst of this suffering and violations of human rights on the border God is at work, and at Frontera de Cristo I have the privilege of being a part of God’s work this year on the border in both the hope and the pain of the cross.