Reflections on a Visit to the U.S.-Mexico Border
In April, an Evangelical Immigration Table mobilizer took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border with a We Welcome staff member and church leader from the Phoenix area to learn from people on the ground about the situation at the border. Here are some of their reflections:
Jen, We Welcome Community Liaison
I had a chance to visit the border last week.
The border that’s all over the news. The Supreme Court reviewing ‘Remain in Mexico,’ the Title 42 border. That one.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to expect. There are a lot of stories and information being shared. I know there is a lot of fearmongering and people slanting stories to support their view.
I want to tell you what I saw, and I will. But I need you to come with an open mind and heart. Regardless of what has recently been said by those in either political party, just hear me out.
Our first stop was Kino Border Initiative (KBI) in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. What I heard there were stories of families whose lives had been changed by cartel takeovers in their towns. Cartels are experiencing more demand for drugs, so they are looking for the best places to grow their products. So, they will come into an area and force people (many times entire families) to either join what the cartel is doing or get rid of them. Here are some of the stories we heard:
A mom had to flee with her two children to the woods every time the cartels came or they would have been shot. Because she wouldn’t join the cartel, they forced her out of her house. She went to the police for help. They told her to file a report, but then she’d need to leave town, because they couldn’t protect her.
Another mom was being intimidated by the cartel to join. This town was her home, and she had a good job and a house, but the last straw for her was when the cartel came and said that everyone in the village would be forced to carry a weapon, even the children. So they left and headed north.
A father and husband’s uncle was ‘disappeared’ by the cartel. When he went looking for his uncle, they attacked him. He was shot and his two young boys were marked with cuts on their heads by the cartel in their encounters to just find his family member and live their lives. He said they still hear of news in their town and the cartel has moved on from just using guns to throwing grenades to intimidate and coerce people.
These people are still experiencing intimidation in Nogales. They are being watched by the cartels to see how the cartel can benefit from them.
You may have heard that illegal border crossings are at an all-time high. This is true, but one of the reasons behind the statistics is the presence of Title 42. There are no legal ramifications for trying to illegally cross under Title 42. Under previous immigration policies, when people were apprehended trying to cross the border one of the possible consequences was being barred from future access to asylum. This consequence sometimes served as a deterrent, but Title 42 completely lacks force in that area.
One of the staff at KBI explained that when there “is a lack of legal process people are pushed into the cartels and the desert.” When people are forced back into the violence, they become desperate for safety and families make choices that they wouldn’t have in a pre-Title 42 world. We were told of a family who would have had a chance to win their asylum case but could not continue to wait. The father of the family decided it was time to pay a “coyote,” or smuggler to help him cross the border. After several weeks, the young wife and mother came to KBI asking for help locating him. They were unsuccessful in finding him at detention facilities and told the young mother it was now time to check medical facilities.
To be clear, Title 42 and Remain in Mexico (MPP) continue to put lives in danger and empower the cartels. The staff at Casa Alitas (a Catholic shelter for migrants) in Tucson told us that no one crosses the border without the cartel’s permission. People who choose to illegally cross with the cartel’s help have two choices: 1) they can pay $1,000 to cross the border and encounter Customs and Border Patrol to claim asylum and be sent to a detention center; or 2) pay upwards of $8,000 to completely evade CBP but spend 5-7 days in the desert. When people feel as though paying the cartel is their only option, the cartels continue to grow in power and make money to continue their evil.
If these two policies are repealed, there will be more people arriving at the border. But I believe that instead of panic or fear, these arrivals represent an opportunity to minister to and care for the vulnerable migrants.
Andy, EIT Mobilizer
One of the church leaders that we took with us had a change of perspective from his encounter with migrants at the border.
He came with an open mind, but preconceived notions as to what he would initially encounter 500 feet from the border. He expected to see encampments and people on the street waiting for their opportunity to “storm a gate”. He had thought he would encounter angry mobs and chaos on the Mexico side of the border.
What he found instead was a group of people trying to follow the laws as best as they could, when there is no clear process. He saw families with young children on the brink of despair but with a glimmer of hope in their eyes that one day their asylum story would be heard and validated. He heard stories of hard decisions made as to who in their family they were able to bring with them, and who they placed in God’s hands to protect while they fled in the middle of a school day.
But more importantly, he found compassionate people and organizations dedicated to serving the most vulnerable in our proximity along with the opportunity to get involved and support these efforts. Every time I visit the border, I am encouraged and inspired by those serving and loving in Jesus’ name. You can find ways to get involved in the amazing ministries along the border at this page.