By Dick Barrett
November 7th through the 14th of this past year I had the privilege and opportunity to participate in a Borderlands Learning Tour sponsored by the Great Lakes office of Mennonite Central Committee. The tour focused on the border between Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Mexico, approximately 120 miles southeast of Tucson. Both Ohio Conference’s Leadership Team and I felt this was an important step in continuing to live out Conference’s immigration resolution and initiative. Ten church leaders from the Great Lakes area were led by three Mennonite Central Committee staff, all with a wide range of experience on the issues of immigration.
For me, one of the few with no first-hand experience, it was eye-opening, adding many perspectives that many of us in the United States never get to experience. At one extreme I was able to witness the lack of hope of a better future for many of those living in Mexico and other South and Central American countries, as well as other countries around the world, to the militarization of the border, and the dehumanization of people ─ men, women and children ─ at so many levels. At the other extreme I was able to witness the courageous efforts of so many people on both sides of the border who have dedicated their lives to helping migrants. These included people serving at shelters (short and long term) on both sides, providing education and legal assistance, as well as providing water and first aid to those who try to cross the border in the most difficult of conditions at the risk of their own lives. The question that kept coming to me throughout the entire tour was, “What would cause a person to risk so much to try and get into a country that they don’t know that much about?”
That question was highlighted during the week when I was able to engage in conversation with two young women who had migrated to the U.S.-Mexican border from Honduras. One was a 21-year-old with a 2-year-old son, and the other was a 25-year-old with a 4-year-old son. They had begun their long journey from Honduras alone but met each other somewhere along the way. I learned throughout the tour that most likely someone in their extended family paid a cartel somewhere between $15,000 – $25,000 to assist each one of them and their child getting from Honduras to the border and across. The cost usually includes three attempts. Both of these women had already been turned back twice and were looking forward to their third attempt. My question for them was, “Why?” And their answer was the same: “There is no future for me and my family from where we come from.” That, and “fear for their lives,” seemed to be the most common answer from the migrants we encountered in a variety of different situations and locations.
The Borderlands Learning Tour left me with some of the same thoughts I had after experiencing a trip many years ago to Guatemala, and one several years ago to Israel/Palestine. There are no easy answers to these big problems and issues. But that does not mean that we should not be trying to address them. Often we seem to retreat to our own cocoons where we are surrounded by like-minded people with whom we hold similar beliefs and easy answers. At other times we seem to go towards one extreme or the other, de-humanizing people on all sides.
Two thoughts kept on coming back to me during the tour. One, what if we were to focus more on this being a humanitarian issue than a law and order issue? There was no doubt after experiencing what I did over the 10-day period on what type of issue the United States has made it. My fear is where the majority of my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the church, are putting the emphasis. The other is, if we as Christians in America take Jesus’ Greatest Commandments of “loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves” seriously, how well are we loving the people in Mexico who are some of our closest neighbors? A first step for many of us is educating ourselves to the truth of the issues of migration and taking advantage of opportunities to experience them first-hand, such as a Borderlands Tour sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee.