The ABQ YAVs recently joined together with the Austin and Tucson YAVs for a border immersion trip led by our site coordinators and a Presbyterian border ministry called Frontera de Cristo. During many points in my life, I have been grateful for being bilingual and this was another one of those times because I was able to fluently communicate and interact with many different people, without details and concepts being lost in translation. I’m thankful I had this experience alongside other YAVs and for the time we spent together as a community during that week asking each other hard questions, immersing ourselves in new experiences, and having some fun.
On the Arizona side, we met and had lunch with Robert Uribe, the mayor of Douglas, who shared an interesting perspective; on how much increased border security is impacting the economy of Douglas. We spent time learning about the infrastructure of the wall and saw the newly added concertina wire near the point of entry. As we walked along the border, we learned the wall isn’t meant to stop people, it serves the purpose of slowing people down for the border patrol on the U.S. side. We participated in a prayer vigil held for those who have died attempting to cross the border. Overall, the Douglas side of the border had a high presence of border patrol and was less welcoming.
Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico
On the Mexico side, we stayed at Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church right across the street from Café Justo. Café Justo is, in my opinion, the ultimate fair trade coffee company and not just because their coffee is delicious. They import their coffee from Chiapas to support struggling farmers while paying them more than enough and the company also creates jobs at the cafe in Agua Prieta.
While in Mexico, we did a walk through the desert to give us a brief insight into what some of the paths migrants walk can be like. We toured a drug rehabilitation facility. We ate a meal at C.A.M.E a migrant resource center and shelter where we met people who are considered to be part of the migrant caravan. We were welcomed into a home for dinner where we heard the story of a chosen deportation from the United States back to Mexico and a now happy family as a result. We visited a women’s co-op where we met with women who were turning their space in the desert into a skills education center, garden, and woodworking area. We met so many incredible people who graciously offered up their stories and we were always welcomed to ask questions.
One experience, in particular, is sticking with me from my time in Mexico, but it is also important to remember this is not the first or the last experience of its kind for people trying to seek asylum in the United States.
During our dinner at the C.A.M.E, I sat with a 13-year-old girl who shared her story of how she had come from Honduras with her mother and how they had spent almost two months making their way to Mexico with the ultimate goal of seeking asylum and meeting up with family in Georgia. The next day as we were crossing the border into Douglas we saw the two of them sitting on the curb outside the point of entry. Only 8 people are allowed into the United States per day from that point of entry. The actual number of people being let in per day at that point of entry seems to be lower. The ABQ YAVs, one Austin YAV, and our site coordinators went back to spend some time with them while they were spending the cold night outside the point of entry. We brought her tea, cookies and warm blankets. While we were sitting with them we had the chance to use our white privilege and engage the border patrol in some conversation with the intent of letting them know we are seeing what is going on and also trying to figure out when this pregnant woman with bronchitis and her 13-year-old daughter would be brought out of the cold.
We left them that night and as we walked away I was wrestling with the idea of having the privilege of being able to walk away from that situation. We heard they were let in to ask for asylum early the next morning. Total wait time outside the point of entry for almost 24 hours.
During our time in Tucson, we focused on the root causes of Migration. We participated in an interactive skit/economy lesson in which we learned about NAFTA. We went to a streamline, immigration criminal court proceeding, in which we saw groups of people of all ages be brought into the courtroom in chains, quickly sentenced for coming into the country illegally, then led back out to serve time in jail then most likely to be put in an immigration detention center. While I was sitting in the courtroom I witnessed people being treated inhumanely and I found myself questioning how anyone can treat people in such an unjust manner.
Upon further reflection…
The time at the border and in Tucson was not easy, but it is a reality. One thing I am holding onto from the experience and struggling with is the idea that as citizens of the United States we are responsible for the border wall. Our tax dollars pay for the wall. The concertina wire meant to intimidate those seeking asylums and crossing the border is ours. The border patrol is ours. The way the point of entry is handled and the way those seeking asylums are treated is on our behalf. Before I went to the border I found it easy to distance myself from the news articles I was reading about the border and the migrant caravan, but now I realize the realities of the border are impossible to ignore. Due to the intensity of the experience at the border, I was relieved to be headed back to Albuquerque. Then I reminded myself, some people carry the border with them wherever they go and live in fear of deportation and as citizens of the United States, we are responsible for the systematic issues that cause people to get frustrated and cross the border illegally.
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28
We the people of the United States are responsible, not just the supporters of the current administration. Because we are responsible, we must stand up. We are called to stand up and raise our heads. During Advent, while we wait we are not told to hunker down and just survive. We are told to stand up. During this Advent season and beyond, we need to stand up against fear, racism, injustice, and hate and remember love has no borders.
What can we do?
The leaders of Frontera de Cristo provided us with a good balance of difficult realities and hope for the future. So, now that I may have overwhelmed you with stories from my experiences, let me provide you with some ways you can help.
We can help create communities that are welcoming to all and love our neighbors. We can greet new people with open hearts and open minds. We can be brave in this advent season as we wait and stand up by writing letters to our political representatives. If you are able you could support organizations such as The Florence Project and Refugee Rights Project, a group that provides free social and legal services to immigrants who are detained in Arizona and is currently looking for lawyers to take cases on pro bono. I would also highly recommend a trip to the border possibly with Frontera de Cristo.
I want to leave you with one of my new favorite Christmas songs by Matthew Black that appropriately matches the idea of standing up and raising our heads.