Tammy Alexander, Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs, MCC Washington D.C. Office reflects on the individuals and families behind the policy debates in the USA. This post originally appeared in http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/m.pl?a=941, a monthly e-zine of the Mennonite Church USA Peace and Justice Support Network.
I had the opportunity recently to visit Nogales, Mexico, just over the border from Nogales, Arizona. One of the places I visited was a bus station not far from the border. It was a place of waiting. Several people, mostly men, sat in detached bus seats in a large square shelter. Most had been deported through the port of Nogales in the past few days.
There was nothing to do but wait. They had been dropped off at the border with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some had spent years in the U.S. and had left families behind. Others had left family in Mexico or Central America and were apprehended trying to cross the border north into the U.S.
As I listened to their stories, I was struck with an overwhelming urge to apologize for the sins of my country, for the terrible injustices they had experienced in their journeys. In the words of Isaiah, I saw the U.S. as a “sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:4, NRSV)
As I looked into their faces, I tried to imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes, what trauma they had experienced, physical and emotional. Were they held in a detention center? For days? Months? What level of fear and uncertainty must they be feeling, not knowing where they would go next or how they would get there.
I was also struck by their bravery, strength, hopefulness, and humor in the face of such uncertainty.
This shelter for recently deported migrants is run by a Mexican bus company. They have two small buildings with bunk beds where migrants can stay for a few days. Volunteers bring sandwiches and fruit. Some free bus tickets are available daily to take people to places in central and southern Mexico. When we asked one of the bus company employees why they run this shelter, she replied, “For the sake of humanity.”
The U.S. deports hundreds of people a day through the port of Nogales (almost 400,000 per year in all of the U.S.). A new report from the Applied Research Center details how more than 5,100 children have been put into foster care in the U.S. after their parents have been detained or deported[i].
… remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)
As I write this, three stories came into my inbox illustrating the continuing hostility – rather than hospitality – shown to immigrants in our midst. One was of a young DREAM[ii] student deported to Mexico.[iii] The second had the subject line, “Jesus will die without a kidney.” This young man, who we should be welcoming as we would welcome his namesake, is being denied a kidney transplant, even though he has insurance, solely because he is undocumented.[iv]
The third story discussed the renovation of a detention facility – called a “family shelter” – for undocumented migrants in Berks, Pennsylvania. The article touted the 60 jobs saved and the potential $1 million for county coffers, but made no mention of the human suffering of the men, women, and children housed in its walls, or of the problems inherent in private detention centers run for profit.[v]
… Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them. (Isaiah 1:23)
Just like the men and women in the shelter in Nogales, these stories are a mere snapshot of the injustice and suffering that persists – and the ways in which we profit from this injustice. Call your representatives in Congress today and encourage them to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Encourage them to craft policies that reflect biblical teachings to welcome the stranger, to rescue the oppressed, and to seek justice.
Immigration resources < washington.mcc.org/issues/immigration >
[ii] DREAM refers to the Development, Relief, & Education for Alien Minors Act, a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. (visit washington.mcc.org/dream for more information on the DREAM Act).