This past Sunday, I went with my peacemaker study group on a day-long immersion experience called The Immigrant Story. We met a number of people and nonprofits whose work offers different views into the complex confusing buzz topic of immigration, particularly here at the US-Mexico border. Although we only traveled a few miles geographically, what we encountered carried us much farther– past Tijuana into the rest of Mexico, into Central and South America. It directed our view to Washington DC and other government seats where trade agreements had far-reaching impact on farmers. It nudged us inward to notice what rose in our heads and hearts.
It was overwhelming. There’s no way I can unpack everything I experienced, felt, thought, was impacted by, and am still processing. So I will take several posts to capture the day, highlighting some things I learned, what surprised me, how it felt, what I’m grappling with now, and a question or two.
Our first stop was right here in my neighborhood to meet the founder of Border Angels, Enrique Morones. The initial spark for BA was in 1986 when Enrique as part of North County Church visited the canyons around Carlsbad to reach out to the homeless children, women, and families living there. Carlsbad is a very affluent area, yet there were also homeless migrant workers living at the bottom of neighborhood canyons. Since then Border Angels has expanded to several avenues of humanitarian work for migrants along the entire US-Mexico border. Their focus is on preventing loss of life but also pressing for change in how migrants are viewed and treated. Education and hands-on involvement are some ways they do that, especially with school and faith groups. You can see all the innovative ways they are working here: https://www.borderangels.org/
Despite the serious topic, Enrique was an upbeat engaging passionate man. His concern for migrant families was palpable, and contagious. His knowledge of the complexities of the journey that migrant workers find themselves on– legal, ethical, racial, political layers–did not overshadow his heart for seeing each person’s humanity. No one plans to become jobless, homeless, separated from their children, at risk from traffickers, or targeted for deportation after years of useful employment in the US. Enrique emphasized the desperation and desire of these migrants (often men) for work, to provide for and protect their families.
While we were there, a bus from USC rolled up with students meeting with Enrique after us. Because of the trust built up between Enrique and both groups’ leaders, a few of the students were willing to share their stories of being Dreamers or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) kids. One woman remembered being 4 years old when she was told to stay very quiet while hiding in the trunk of a car as it crossed into the US. Another student was 7 when her parents brought her here, and she is now earning a masters degree that equips her to help shift the legal and social minefield our immigration system has become. I was so grateful for their courage to entrust their stories with strangers. There was a warm sense of commaraderie when we parted ways.
As Enrique talked, I noticed several sensations that would become constant throughout the day for me: curiosity, empathy, concern, sadness, frustration, questioning, anger. I wanted to understand more than what our brief conversation provided. I ached for the little girl on the front of the Border Angels brochure who could only get as close to her dad as feeling each others’ fingertips through the metal grid in the border wall allowed.
I uncomfortably heard echoes of the tapes in my head from my conservative upbringing, “maybe this is what happens when you break the law.” I had a bazillion questions. I wanted to DO something. I definitely wanted a “Bad Hombre” or “Bad Mujer” Border Angels t-shirt!!
There is no tidy way to finish this post. Hearing about Border Angels and some personal stories from students set the tone for the day. I reminded myself to stay curious, open, and nonjudgmental. I reminded myself to trust the process, to take the next step on this journey I have committed to. I asked God to stay close by, to guide my hand and heart.
I would ask you to do the same: be curious, open, nonjudgemental. Stay with me on this journey. Look for my next post on the rest of this fascinating immersion experience, and please ask any questions!