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March 19, 2015
Peach Jack was an attendee on the Justicia en la Frontera/Justice at the Border Friendship Tour to Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, TX. Originally published in "The Spire," the newsletter of Seattle First Baptist, her article addresses some of the important details of the trip itself as well as provides some useful information to help others formulate responses to questions concerning immigration and the issues around it. Peach is the director of congregational engagement at Seattle First Baptist (a BPFNA Partner Congregation).
Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
-- Isaiah 1:17
February 8-14, 2015, the [BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz] hosted a “friendship tour” visiting individuals, sites and organizations involved with the crisis of justice along the US border with Mexico. I was awarded a scholarship and position among 16 individuals from around North America in an effort to understand the current crisis at our Southern border and the desire for immigration reform.
Our job was to learn and begin to form a Christian response to the very real human need through awareness, being present, and listening, seeing with our own eyes. This effort is part of a five year plan to fulfill a vision called, “No Longer Strangers: Crossing Borders for Peacemaking”, as conceptualized by the BPFNA. Last issue of the Spire, I promised you conversation around some of the important themes, some of which I will address here:
Given the risks people face, why do they choose to leave home and come to the US?
|Justicia en la Frontera group at the part of the border fence between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.|
For the vast majority of people who chose to migrate to the US, the main motivator is socio-economic. Looking at our shared history, there are multiple challenges to individuals and whole communities South of the border, not the least of which, the current and NAFTA influenced economy in Mexico and now recurring violence in Central America. Drug and arms trade are significant to the economies in these regions, following disruption of the major cartels in both South America, across Mexico and in transport across the US-Mexico border. The US is involved in many ways, not the least of which, our laws and subsidies that support large industrial farms in our county, resulting in a trade deficit and inflationary prices as well as unemployment. Everywhere I went, from the Border Patrol, Immigration Court, to discussions with individuals, the same message was heard: there are not enough jobs that pay a living wage and people will risk all. That includes potential deportation, criminalization, disappearance and death. The border is not impermeable and not only have many crossed it successfully but also multiple times, often evading the “Migra”. The first time they are caught, it is a civil offense, resulting in deportation proceedings. Repeated capture results in a federal offense and criminality, often dividing families, some of whom already are US citizens, and forever prohibiting future documented status in the US.
How testimony brings life to the conversation on migratory policy.
Hearing stories first-hand of women and children caught in the extortion and crossfire of the drug cartels, attending a civil
|Carlos Marentes, director of the Farm Labor Union (Centro de los Trabajadores Fronterizos), speaking to the group.|
court proceeding of ten young individuals wearing shackles, noticing the “newer” fence built in 2009 that divides a once-friendly relationship between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, talking to local labor organizers who know we depend on the 80% of farm workers from Mexico and 20% from Central America and the Caribbean, noticing that all these folks are dark skinned and the people policing them are mostly light skinned…hearing the stories and seeing the lists of the murdered, disappeared, lost in the desert crossing being documented by the church…the list goes on…Read Nazario, Enrique’s Journey, to learn about “La Bestia”, the train that transports kids from Central America to the US, in search of a parent, who has never returned.
Teaching on the historical consequences of expansionist policies and responses.
The history of the US and Mexico is a mixture of neighborliness and distrust. For more information and testimonies on historical reactions, implications, lessons and possible responses, read De La Torre, Trails of Hope and Terror. More information on current executive action is found at: "Obama's huge new immigration plan, explained", http://www.vox.com/2014/11/20/7250255.
The definition of “refugee” status and why that is important.
Refugees are granted status by the US government if they come through another “neutral country”. If they share a border with us, they must apply for asylum and must prove “reasonable fear of harm”. According to the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, a legal clinic in El Paso, TX, this threat must either come from that citizen’s government or someone the government is not able to control. The number of applications for asylum is about 25 years behind and hundreds apply every day. Pro Bono attorneys are few and the cost is to the individual, though they are entitled to legal assistance. Many do not ever get through the system, even with every one of these requirements fulfilled.
|Looking down the road at Casa Vidas, one of the Annunciation House shelters.|
My colleagues and I were immersed in a program called the Border Awareness Experience led by two professional organizations that have worked along the border for over 30 years. Borderlinks, headquartered in Tucson, works mainly with student groups, doing tours for education and transformation. Annunciation House, a refuge in El Paso, which houses women and children, along with some men, has been offering sanctuary and working well with the Immigration offices in Texas. Their objective is to: facilitate face-to-face meetings between program participants and people on both sides of the border. My time was an opportunity to listen and hear, not “do”, nor feel pity for the poor, rather find our own shared dignity. Despite the overwhelming need and challenges we both face, I believe in this we were successful.
Please consider joining me and my colleagues as we seek to fulfill the vision statement from Annunciation House:
“In a Gospel spirit of service and solidarity, we accompany the migrant, homeless, and economically vulnerable peoples of the border region through hospitality, advocacy, and education. We place ourselves among these poor so as to live our faith and transform our understanding of what constitutes more just relationships between peoples, countries, and economies.” Through direct experiences with those who face daily violence, who are actively disempowered by economic and social forces beyond their control, and who struggle to simply survive – and through daily reflections on those experiences – our participants will learn how they can act as partners in the efforts of vulnerable yet courageous people already acting to improve their lives and their communities. We seek to join forces with them in calling and acting for the deep structural changes that are needed to created a society that is more just and peaceful.”
At the BPFNA annual gathering July 6-11, 2015 at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, participants will share the experiences of the border awareness Friendship Tour with the 300-400 people gathered for the conference and will lead them in creating plans for response. They will plan and lead both educational events and events in which churches and individuals will be challenged to make concrete plans for how they will act on the issues in the coming year. I also will be sharing more of my own photos and experience this spring in Adult Education hour.