by Ron Cammel; a freelance writer and journalist. These are his reflections after participating in the Southwest Conference/United Church of Christ Border Immersion and Convergence events with his partner, Designated Conference Minister Bill Lyons.
Last weekend I witnessed American citizens join with undocumented immigrants to demand humane treatment for migrants. I heard stories about migrants who tried to escape violence or extreme poverty and then were jailed in the U.S. and deported. I heard stories from tearful migrants who were trying to reunite with their fathers or husbands who were locked in detention centers unsure of their fate.
I haven’t paid enough attention to the issues of illegal migration, refuge, deportations and border security. Migration is probably the world’s largest humanitarian crisis right now. Arizona is a hot spot. Now that I have connected more faces and stories to what I casually followed in the news, I find myself questioning the conventional thinking about securing borders and controlling immigrant numbers.
Also affecting my thinking is a place: Nogales, Arizona, where a formidable wall divides the city from another part of the same community in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. A military-like presence of towers, huge lights and guards is nearly inescapable on the American side. It’s a lovely town in its own character-filled way, though not wealthy. The people seem friendly and cheerful. The tacos are awesome. The water, drinkable.
The day I visited, Mexican children stuck their smiling faces between the rusty steel beams of the wall, hoping for any reaction from those nearby. In the evening, young people sat on each side conversing. Traffic moved steadily through the one border crossing, a gateway between nations but a single road connecting an oddly divided community.
The wall continued forever in both directions through the desert, over the scrubby hills and down the grassy valleys.
I know some of the reasons for trying to “protect” the nation’s borders this way, but soon after I reached that wall I found myself praying for its destruction. It was like a subconscious reaction. The wall is so wrong, so anti-community, so anti-peace. I envisioned the city with a linear park, instead, along the border – a wavy pathway meandering both sides where children could run along and shout, “I’m in America! I’m in Mexico! I’m in America! I’m in Mexico!”
I envisioned the grey-green desert without its current blockade, where wildlife could move freely to maintain healthy ecosystems.
And I envisioned border residents moving more freely, as I assume they did before the wall went up. (I learned of ranchers unable to hunt now and homes stuck south of the wall but in the U.S.!)
Despite the wall’s imposition, it doesn’t work well. Yes, it does keep many people out. Illegal crossings are way down after many controls – sensors, more guards, more walls, etc. – were added in the past 10 years. But many people still make it to America. Drugs are transported. Human trafficking continues.
The wall fails to promote any American value, such as freedom, human dignity, equality, inalienable rights. We’ve spent $132 billion on securing the Mexican border the past decade to promote a rigid idea of security and have not addressed the reasons people are willing to leave their families and homes, risk arrest, risk dehydration and heat exhaustion and live in practical hiding in a foreign country. The security efforts have led to about 200 deaths per year in the desert. Others live in fear and are unable to reach their potential as a person because of the deportation risk.
Congress even waived 37 laws so contractors could extend the wall without pesky hindrances such as protecting water, respecting land rights and saving archaeological sites.
Could some of that $132 billion have been better spent to solve the root problems? Peace-making and true problem-solving require creative minds.
I learned last weekend about the sanctuary movement. Similar to the Underground Railroad from slavery days, it helps desperate people find work and shelter. Sometimes it helps them get to Canada, where they can live more freely. Churches, colleges and even entire cities take part. There is nothing illegal about these activities. We have come a long way from the Fugitive Slave Act.
I learned of other creative efforts to help our neighbors in need, or “the least of these.” These efforts contrast with actions like sending undocumented immigrants caught in domestic disputes to a land they barely know anymore, and taking young men caught in drug offenses to the border and ordering them to cross over where drug workers will seize upon their vulnerability. I learned of one deported man who didn’t even speak Spanish – his parents had failed to do the paperwork when he was little, and now a crime that would land a fine for most resulted in banishment from his homeland.
“Pax” and “esperanza,” someone painted on a wooden cross that activists tied to the wall. Peace and hope. There is much hope for change. Even when we can’t seem to get away from the word “illegals,” as if a human being can be reduced in such a way, a movement is stirring to preserve dignity and to challenge the powers that be to act more humanely and morally responsible.
featured image courtesy of ©2016ScottGriessel/Creatista