Monica and her border trip companions visiting with Jorge.
By Monica Kunovszky
I first visited the United States/Mexico border in February of 2015 at Nogales, Arizona. Even though the situation at the time was difficult, the individuals I met were hopeful. When I traveled to the Mexico side of the border, I had the privilege of hearing the stories of those who were stuck waiting to cross but still had dreams of a promised land where they could reunite with their families and live safely.
Fast forward to July 2017. I had the opportunity to visit the Columban Mission Center at another part of the border: El Paso, Texas. Even though it has only been two years since my first trip, the context and situation had shifted. With inflammatory rhetoric against migrants, the prospect of more walls and decreased refugee resettlement, migrants on both sides of the border feel increasingly demoralized by a culture that refuses to offer welcome.
Throughout my visits and experiences in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, I kept recalling my trip in 2015:
In 2015, border patrol officers were heavily armed and barely spoke to passersby. They simply patrolled the border and surveyed the wall through barriers up to 18 feet high. Two years later, we had the opportunity to meet a Border Patrol officer. The officer viewed his job as lifesaving, because often undocumented individuals that attempt to cross fall into the river. Undercurrents can quickly pull down and drown migrants. He struck me as a kind man.
In 2015, we visited safe houses on the Mexico side of the border, where deported persons can seek refuge. Even though they were discouraged by their situation, they were still hopeful that they could have a better life in the United States. In 2017, although I did not meet anyone who had been deported to Mexico, we did speak with Jorge. Jorge had been working in the United States for several years when one day men who would not identify themselves arrested and deported his wife and son to Colombia. Jorge and his other son continue to live in the United States working to reunite their family. It was difficult to understand much of what Jorge said because he couldn’t stop from crying.
In 2015, I attended an “Operation Streamline” court hearing, a program which has a “zero-tolerance” approach to those who cross the border without documentation. Dozens of people shuffled in at once and all together were told they were guilty and were sentenced to deportation. Two years later, I had the opportunity to meet with an immigration judge. In his entire career, he has only granted 2% of asylum requests. Before we knew it, we were ushered out of the courtroom.
Crossing the border is becoming more dangerous – the stakes are higher as people’s safety is more threatened. Despite all this, what amazed me is everyone’s determination. Wall or no wall, migrants are coming and people in El Paso are ready to welcome them. Our migrant brothers and sisters still yearn to live in a country with more opportunity and less violence than their own, and US citizens still yearn for a country that allows them these opportunities.
Still, trying to be hopeful during my 2017 trip was hard for me. The challenges our migrant brothers and sisters face are so huge. Even for people like me working to build a culture of welcome in my own community, the task seems impossible. But hope found me shortly after my trip when Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso released a pastoral letter on migration. In his letter he reminds us that “every human being bears within him or her the image of God, which confers upon us a dignity higher than any passport or immigration status.” This applies to not only migrants but also border patrol agents, deportation agents and deported persons, judges, and lawyers. Each one of us is a child of God.
Everyone should read this letter.
Bishop Seitz and his letter have inspired me to show other people the image of God that’s in each of our migrant brothers and sisters. When I finish my internship with the Columban Center, I hope to share my experience with my school and tell people about the realities of what’s going on at the border. I want my friends and my family to know the truth that undocumented persons aren’t a burden but a gift, they are not criminals but human beings just like us.
*Monica is the Columban Center Communications Intern and student at Alma College.*
**Weekly Reflection on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.**
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