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A reflection on the Migrant Caravan

by Hortensia Picos Lee


December 12, 2018

Recently we have been listening a lot in Mexico, thanks to the information disseminated in the media and social networks, about the phenomenon of the migrant caravan that began its journey through Mexico from October 2018, with the objective of reaching The United States of America. A contingent of approximately 8,400 people, mainly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, left Central America and have been traveling through Mexico to go to the United States of America. This form of mobilization of migrants from Central America is not something new at all, for at least ten years these types of mobilizations have been carried out in caravans organized by groups of activists in southern Mexico, in a time close to the Easter time. But this mobilization has attracted the attention of the Mexican media and the United States, due to the situation of the arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the latter country in 2017 and the harsh measures that he has announced will apply to the members of this caravan who intend to cross the border.

What these Central American women and men want is to escape the poverty, marginalization and violence that they suffer in their places of origin. Children, women and young people from marginal communities are severely affected by physical and sexual abuse and forced recruitment by organized crime and local gangs. But unlike many other migrants who travel trying to hide, they do not try to go unnoticed, but travel in large groups precisely to make visible, to Mexico and the whole world, the difficult conditions from which they escape and for demonstrating that no matter how long and how hard their journey could be, they will not stop if this makes it possible for them to reach a better future. In addition, they feel more secure and supported by traveling in this way.

The staying of the migrant caravan has generated all kinds of reactions among the Mexican population. In many people it has brought out feelings of solidarity, empathy and desire to help, making donations to collection centers, distributing food and drinks and registering as volunteers in the shelters that give temporary asylum to the travelers. They have developed a sensitivity that understands the complexity of the circumstances that have made migrants intensely yearning to reach the "American dream".

However, in addition to that solidarity we have the another side of the coin, a hostile and xenophobic side that leads to rudeness toward the Central Americans who are in transit through Mexico; they are described as lazy, vulgar, dirty and ignorant, among other epithets more coarse still. In the social networks it's possible to see nationalist arguments that incite to hate, in which are concentrated prejudices and fear towards foreigners, more if they come from poor nations of Central America. There have even been people who celebrate that drug gangs makes migrants disappear, arguing that "the cartels are finally beginning to be patriot", and make callings to poison the food and water that is humanely provided to these ones. Of course without falling into such extreme expressions of hate, the mayor of Tijuana also stoked the controversy and he got on the discriminatory wave, declaring that the migrants of the caravan “represent a risk to the safety of Tijuana's inhabitants."  He also said that "human rights are for right humans", although after he retracted because of the strong criticism that caused this kind of expressions.

But many xenophobic people do not care about the public opinion; when their position is disapproved they appeal to a defense of national sovereignty and to the negative effects that, according to their perception, the Mexican ordinary citizens suffer because of the caravan's stay.

It can not be denied that the arrival of the migrant caravan to Tijuana has caused a kind of "bottleneck" that has become a difficult problem to solve for the Mexican and US governments, with Donald Trump's statements endorsing repressive actions such as occurred in the San Ysidro border gate the last November 25th. We all recognize the fact that each country has the right to protect its border according to what it deems appropriate for assuring its national security, and that the migrants' staying has to be ruled by the law. But even in this context Christian people must continue their advocacy of the human rights for the migrants of the caravan; they have to be treated with dignity, cordiality and solidarity until finding the best solution for each case, respecting their legitimate aspiration to a better life. Their future is not in our hands,  but we can contribute so that their stay, while it last, could be more pleasant.

If we want to find a biblical text that teaches us how to treat people who are in a state of extreme need as is the case of migrants there is, in my opinion, anything better than the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-35). This parable arose as Jesus' answer to the question asked by an interpreter of the Mosaic Law: "Who is my neighbor?" The parable relates that a Samaritan man did not think twice to help a stranger, a man beaten, unconscious and abandoned by the roadside. It would not have been rare that the Samaritan man, besides not wanting to deal with the risk of helping an unknown man, avoided contact with someone who would probably were faking to have being assaulted. After all, the beaten man was seen before by a Priest and a Levite, who they did nothing to help him. But the good Samaritan saw in the beaten man his neighbor, and his only thought was to help him in his need without putting his own security in the first place. The Samaritan did not mind risking his life, spending his own money or being publicly praised for helping a stranger. The Samaritan identified with the stranger's needs and had compassion for him. Moving this teaching to our time and the situation that migrants live now, maybe these people are not half dead physically as we inferred that the man in the parable was, but they are strangers beaten in their spirit and they need love and compassion, people who listen to them, help them to get ahead and give them the same value that God gives them. All of us can help with our prayers, with our material and / or emotional support, with our friendship and empathy.

Jesus finally ended the parable making the interpreter choosing by himself who was the traveler's neighbor: "The one who had mercy on him". We can choose if the migrant are really our neighbors, and what to do with them: to attack them, as the thieves did with the traveler; to ignore them, as the priest and the Levite did, or we can choose to love and care for them, as the Samaritan did. The Christians' choice is given, by Jesus' blunt words: "Go, and do likewise".

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