Prior to my trip to the Arizona/Mexico border, I was unsure about what I was getting myself into. Being a good liberal, I knew that I was supposed to support immigration reform, and I thought I understood the effects of xenophobia. But after reading the prerequisite books in preparation for the trip, my heart began to ache for the suffering happening just over 600 miles from where I grew up. How could I be so oblivious to what was going on?! Why was no one talking about these injustices, or was I just not paying attention?
I learned that only 1.5% of Mexican asylum requests are granted, compared to the almost 50% for all other countries. I learned that Israel is developing technology in the Arizona desert used to discover and track migrants, perfecting it to be used on Palestinians. As we fortify our major ports of entry the cartels are taking control over the borderlands in between. I visited the spot where Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot down 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez. Over 3,000 adults and 1,800 children are detained in Arizona a day. Many judges who make final decisions on asylum cases have deep connections with Homeland Security. The majority of those crossing through the desert are doing so for their families, and the bulk of the drugs crossing the desert is marijuana, now legal in the very place I write this.
I could go on, but the majority of the learning wasn’t cognitive, head knowledge, but can only be found in the depths of my heart. And it is this awareness that is going to transform my future ministry. When thinking about real Gospel ministry with immigration, I asked John Fife, one of founders of the Sanctuary Movement, why he dedicated his life to this cause. He replied, “We have no middle ground between collaboration and resistance. Law abiding protest trains us to live with these atrocities.” Attorney Margo Cowan was even more blunt when I asked her the same question. “Don’t set your damn values aside.” That’s a sermon needed for this moment.
I hope if you read this you learned something about immigration, think and look at what is going on a bit differently. But knowing it is not enough; we have to feel it. If you have a little more compassion, we’ve just begun. I pray that when you hear someone say a disparaging comment about immigrants or another race, make grand overarching statements, you’ll pause to know that’s not the story. It might be their narrative, but the reality is that we are causing immense suffering. It’s happening on our land. We don’t have to look to Syria or the Middle East to see the destruction we are inflicting. We just need to look South.
Sometimes it’s hard to have faith. Is it worth it? Does it make a difference? I saw faith last week. In the migrants crossing for their family. In those offering care. In those fighting to make a difference. If they can have faith, I know I can always look South.