The borderlands trip was a profound experience. We saw much sadness there, but at the same time the love of Christ was at work in everybody that we saw and talked to.
Imagine living in a country in which 50% of the population earns less than $2 a day, and the vast majority of the remaining people earn $11 to $15 a day. What do you do to survive when almost all of your disposable income is needed for basic necessities, and there is never any money left over for savings? In Mexico, three industries provide the bulk of national revenue. The largest is oil, and tied for second and third are tourism, and the money sent back home from undocumented workers living in the U.S. Obviously, millions of people have made the choice to cross the border in hopes of financing a better life.
One result of this exodus is broken families. Men risk crossing the border leaving the rest of their family behind. People cross because of the almost 20 year wait to enter the United States with current immigration policy (provided one has the fees to make an application in the first place). Crossing the border is a very risky proposition. At least 500 bodies have been found in the desert every year for the past ten years; people who succumbed to the elements. Many thousands more certainly have died while their bodies have never been found (the desert completely decomposes a body within weeks). The drug cartels seem to have complete control of the border traffic. They may help people get to their destinations, or they may force them to carry drugs, or they may hold them for ransom. Women expect to be raped. Some say 100% of women are subjected to rape in the desert. If caught by the border patrol, people can expect to be dropped back on the other side of the border at night, usually hundreds of miles from where they attempted to cross. If caught multiple times, they are imprisoned for up to six months or more.
In Nogales we met a woman named Candy at Keno, a place that serves breakfast and dinner to those who had been deported within the previous week. About 150 recently deported persons were there that morning. Candy was from a village in Guatemala where girls are required to marry at the age of 16. Candy ran away when she was 14 because she had seen so much domestic violence within marriage. She returned to rescue her sister before she was forced to marry. The two girls traveled across countries and rode on top of the Mexican “Train of Terror” to the border at Nogales. There they climbed the fence but were caught and deported as they crossed the desert. Candy tried a second time but fell the 20 feet off the border wall, hurt her ankle and was again deported. If she returns to Guatemala she knows she will be whipped 50 times. Her sister applied for political asylum and is now living in Virginia awaiting her court date in January, but without the $7000 court fees she may not be able to be granted the USA asylum. Candy’s dream is to go to the United States, get a job and send money home to her mother for medicine; yet she knows that she will never be able to return to her village to see her mother. She made the comment, “Sometimes life is hard.”
"The true story is behind each smile," said Jeanette, one of the community leaders at the House of Hope and Peace (HEPAC), a partner organization with BorderLinks located on the Mexico side of the US-Mexico border. We were struck by the relentless joy and gracious hospitality that greeted the PTS delegation in children's faces, struggling workers, and leaders in communities experiencing deep and systematic oppression. Jeannette reminded us to embrace and be moved by the smiles, while also recognizing and being moved to confess our complicity in the suffering of our sisters and brothers across our many borders.
Professor Mindy McGarrah Sharp wrote that she felt privileged to return to BorderLinks as a faculty member for a second year this year. “Where last year, I experienced confusion, shock, awe, and disbelief around the reality of border life in my first experience on the US-Mexico border, this year I could see a bit more deeply.”
Our experience with BorderLinks was indescribable in that we learned so much about just some of the issues migrants face coming to America. While we may agree there are issues that need revamping, we also need to remember the migrants are human, too. The dehumanization needs to stop –
The one thing that we may all agree on—visitors, humanitarians, border workers and governments—is that our immigration system is broken. We need to find a way to work together to improve the lives of those on the border . . . and beyond . . . where smiles reflect peace and justice among we who are neighbors in creation.
The 2012 PTS BorderLinks Delegation: Jamie Gray, Walter Marsella, Darlene Martinez, Eric Meyers, Summer Powers, Lonnie Snyder, Loren Richmond, Jr., Professor Mindy McGarrah Sharp, Dean Don Pittman