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.
NO, I AM NOT SCREAMING WHILE I WRITE THIS BLOG, NO MATTER HOW MUCH I DISLIKE WRITING. I WANTED TO SHARE WITH Y’ALL WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WORK IN THE OFFICE AT CHRPA. I HAVE BEGUN SPLITTING MY TIME JUST ABOUT 30/50 WITH OFFICE AND FIELD WORK. EVERY FORM I FILL OUT ON COMPUTER IS TYPED IN ALL CAPS, UNIFORM AND ALMOST SCREAMING TO BE NOTICED AND READ.
WORKING IN THE OFFICE MEANS A CONSTANT PHONE RINGING IN THE BACKGROUND, PAPER WORK, AND VOLUNTEERS WAITING FOR MARCHING ORDERS AND INFORMATION. I, ONLY HAVING EXPERIENCE OF A YEAR OR SO IN CUSTOMER CARE AT A GOLF PRO SHOP, WASN’T QUITE READY FOR THE DIFFERENT TYPE OF CUSTOMERS I WOULD BE DEALING WITH. SONIA, OUR USUAL SECRETARY/GENIUS/THERAPIST WAS OUT FOR VACATION AND I WAS THE FILL IN.
IT WAS HOT A WEEK, SO THEREFORE THE MOST COMMON REQUEST WAS FOR COOLER REPAIRS. MOST PHONE CALLS ARE OVER WITHIN FIVE MINUTES. THEY CALL; I TAKE THEIR INFORMATION; AND ASK A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THEIR REPAIRS. THEY ASK ME HOW LONG THEY HAVE TO WAIT, AND I SAY I DON’T KNOW. THIS IS THE PART THAT STUMPS MOST CONVERSATIONS. HOW DO I TELL SOMEONE WITH 6 KIDS AND A CAVING IN FLOOR THAT WE CAN HELP BUT I JUST DON’T KNOW WHEN? AFTER I DROP THE “I DON’T KNOW BOMB,” THE CONVERSATION USUALLY GOES ONE OF TWO WAYS. ONE, THE CLIENT THANKS ME FOR LISTENING AND FILLING OUT AN APPLICATION, THEN THEY HANG UP. TWO, THE CLIENT MAKES A CASE AS TO WHY THEY SHOULD BE PUT AT THE TOP OF THE “LIST” FOR HOME REPAIRS. 6/10 TIMES THIS LEADS TO TEARS, GUILT TRIPPING, OR THE CLIENT BEGGING FOR MORE HELP.
I’D LIKE TO JUST GO AHEAD AND CURSE MY MOM FOR GIVING ME THE COMPASSION GENE, BECAUSE WHEN CASE 2 OCCURS, I END UP WAY TOO EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED. COMPASSION AND EMPATHY, I HAVE COME TO LEARN, IS MY WEAK POINT. I GET EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED IN STORIES AND PROBLEMS THAT AREN’T ALWAYS MY PLACE TO FIX. I AM LEARNING THAT I DON’T HAVE TO FIX, SOMETIMES I JUST NEED TO LISTEN. I AM LEARNING THE GRACE OF BEING POLITE BUT FIRM.
A LOT OF TIMES THE CLIENTS I SPEAK WITH ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE ON THEIR LAST STRAW. MANY TIMES THEY ARE STRESSED OR EMBARRASSED TO BE ASKING FOR HELP. SOMETIMES THAT COMES ACROSS AS ANGER, SOMETIMES TEARS, AND SOMETIMES JUST RAMBLING. I HAVE ALSO LEARNED THAT SOME CLIENTS JUST NEED SOMEONE TO LISTEN.
ONE DAY, I TOOK A LITTLE EXTRA TIME TO TALK TO MR. SMITH (NAME CHANGED, OF COURSE). HE TOLD ME HIS HOME REPAIR PROBLEMS; I LISTENED, AND LISTENED, AND HIS HOME REPAIR PROBLEMS TURNED INTO HIS LIFE PROBLEMS (THIS IS VERY COMMON). MR. SMITH JUST LOST HIS DAUGHTER. HE WAS IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL, LIVING IN A FALLING APART HOME, AND WAS LONELY. I JUST LISTENED. BY THE END OF OUR 15-20 MINUTE CHAT, I KNEW MORE ABOUT HIM THAN I THINK I KNOW ABOUT MYSELF. AS WE WERE WRAPPING UP THE CONVERSATION, HE THANKED ME FOR BE WILLING TO HELP AND THEN HUNG UP. NOT EVEN FIVE MINUTES LATER, HE CALLED BACK AND TOLD ME THANK YOU FOR JUST LISTENING AND NOT BRUSHING HIM OFF. HE EXPLAINED THAT I WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO CARE ENOUGH TO TALK TO HIM FOR MORE THAN JUST A FEW MINUTES. THEY ALWAYS TEACH YOU A SMILE CAN CHANGE SOMEONE’S DAY, BUT I THINK A LISTENING EAR HAS AN EVEN BIGGER IMPACT.
WHEN I PICK UP THE PHONE, I NEVER KNOW WHAT VERSION OF A “TYPICAL INTAKE” I’LL GET, BUT THIS JOB HAS TAUGHT ME HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO JUST HAVE PATIENCE AND TO LISTEN. SO MAYBE THE COMPASSION GENE, IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY REALLY NEED FROM ME...MAYBE I WAS GIVEN TOOLS TO DO A JOB I NEVER THOUGHT I COULD?