Final Thoughts: Emily

The refugee crisis is impacting countries all across the world. Many of the people that flee from their homes in Central America are asylum seekers looking to start anew in the U.S. because there is political turmoil and unrest in their countries. Others come to the U.S. because the Cartel is threatening their families’ lives or they are looking for work so they can send money home. Their journeys are often difficult and painful, but the hope for a better future is strong enough for families to leave everything behind or parents to send their children to travel hundreds of miles alone. There are countless reasons why people immigrate to the U.S. from Central America and Mexico, and each person that journeys to the U.S.faces individual hardships that the media often doesn’t address and combines millions of stories into only a few narratives. While we were in Nogales and Tucson, we were able to speak with and listen to migrants who have come to the border in hopes of living a better life in the U.S. It’s these stories I now take back with me along with a deeper understanding of the complexity of the immigration crisis occurring today.

During our time in Nogales, we visited two shelters for asylum seekers; Las Torres and La Roca, which are supported in part by Cruzando Fronteras. One man we met named Miguel Angelo traveled from Guerrero in southern Mexico with his wife and two young children. He owned a food store, but the Cartel demanded money for ‘protection’ and continuously raised the price until Miguel could no longer pay. He was in fear of his families’ lives and was forced to decide to sell his store and car and use that money to travel by bus to the border in hopes of applying for asylum to live in the U.S. He has plans to live with his father in San Francisco and work in construction.

We also went to an Operation Streamline hearing in Tucson, which is a “zero-tolerance” initiative by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice that criminally prosecutes people who cross the border illegally. All of the prosecutions are done en mass, with 75 people at a hearing in the morning and 75 people in the afternoon, four days a week. The hearing is translated as the judge speaks, as most of those being prosecuted only speak Spanish. We witnessed a man and his lawyer come forward and after pleading guilty to crossing the border illegally, the man’s lawyer speaking on his behalf in English. She said that when he was in the desert, coming into the U.S., he found two dead bodies on the ground. She said, as she was choking up, that he was traumatized from the experience and that before he was deported, he wanted to work with Border Patrol to find the remains and lay them properly to rest. The lawyer also requested that he see a therapist or counselor before deportation. This story is powerful to me because it is a reminder that people do die trying to come into the U.S. and that anyone who tries puts their life at risk. “Zero tolerance” policies put migrants who come to the U.S. in danger, many of whom strive for a better life. And so many of the stories of those that have died will be forgotten and bodies left to rot in the desert. The majority of the American public will never know how many people die coming to the U.S. because those numbers can be unreported or narrowly defined by agencies such as Customs and Border Protection.

We met and spoke with Border Patrol agents at their offices in the Nogales sector on Monday. Before going, I had very low opinions of CBP and what they do. While now, I have more respect for Border Patrol, I still have mixed feelings. They have a job to protect the border that involves detaining and processing people. The agents rescue a lot of migrants and they do realize that it is very difficult for people to receive asylum, leading them to crossing illegally. CBP try to separate themselves from some of the work they do, saying they are a “law enforcing agency, not a law writing agency” and that “Border Patrol wasn’t separating the families, it was the court system.” While I know that the actions of some Border Patrol agents do not represent the entire agency and that they follow the written law, there are still countless stories that reflect poorly upon the general attitude and beliefs of CBP. For example, the xenophobic, racist, CBP Facebook group that the news uncovered several weeks ago show videos of Border Patrol agents slashing water left for migrants. On Wednesday, we went to a store that was on the Tohono O’odham Native American reservation. While there, we spoke with Agatha and Jorge. Agatha spoke about how she accidentally took a wrong turn and was stopped, surrounded, and harassed by CBP agents. She told another story about her nephew; one day, he was tending to cattle and didn’t have his ID with him. Because he has lighter skin and doesn’t look like a stereotypical Native American, he was going to be detained but was saved by being able to speak the Tohono O’odham language, therefore proving he lived on the reservation. She says this harassment has been happening for the past 20 years, since a checkpoint was put up on the reservation. Jorge told a story about his white friend from the U.K. His U.S. visa was expired, but was still able to pass over the border without issue while Native Americans with passports get harassed when they cross. Jorge said “Peace and forgiveness is an art. People are so full of hate.” All of these stories reiterate that CBP is to protect the border — but sometimes it seems they end up protecting the border from people with brown skin.

I am saddened by this and hope that our country can pass thoughtful laws that deal with the refugee and immigration crisis understandingly, empathetically, and in a way that respects all races, traditions, beliefs, skin colors, nationalities, and reasons why that person is coming to the U.S.

- Emily, St. Elizabeth’s, Sudbury

Final Thoughts: Kaitlyn

I decided to go on this journey to the border because of everything that’s happening right now. There are so many stories of migrants trying to find better lives, trying to cross a border that shuts us off from our neighbors in Mexico. I was able to hear a few of these many stories when communicating with the migrants at the shelters. I learned how complex and unique each story is and how unheard these stories are.

On Saturday we visited the Pimeria Alta Historical Society Museum and the most impactful thing I remember about it is the picture of where Mexico and the United States meet before a barrier was installed. In the picture, there were no walls, no fences, nothing creating a boundary between the neighboring countries. Astrid, one of the workers at the museum, told us that people used to just walk over to the other side and get a drink or have dinner. Now, you have to wait in a tedious line of cars in order to get back to the US. Security has to check your passports and search the car. Anyone who doesn’t have those documents has no chance of crossing over.

So many people are trying to escape from terrible lives and dangerous neighborhoods. One of the most basic teachings in religion is to love your neighbors. Unfortunately, migrants are being turned away by their closest neighbor, the U.S. We have created boundaries and left them to face death as they struggle to cross the desert, traveling miles just to be met with a wall blocking their hope for a new life ー a safe home to bring their families to.

On Thursday we went to the Federal Courthouse in Tucson where migrants were being charged for trying to illegally cross the border. One man revealed that he had seen a body on his journey through the desert. Try to imagine seeing a body in the desert and being unable to do anything about it. Having to leave it there when you know that someone could be waiting to hear from them. This man faced a traumatic experience and had to ask the court if he could get counseling. They said was if someone was available at the moment, they could give him that. But as he walked away with his hands and feet in shackles, I doubted he would get the support he needed.

Unfortunately, many of these migrants voices are unheard and they all have powerful and complex stories. That is one of the reasons we came. In order to hear these stories and share them. Many people make assumptions about this immigration crisis. Many people don’t understand how much hardships these migrants have faced, how many families have been separated, and how many lives have been lost. I am so grateful I have had the opportunity to hear these stories and show the migrants that there are people who care and who will listen to them.

- Kaitlyn, St. Chrysostom’s, Quincy and Brockton Covenant, Brockton

Final Thoughts: Mikayla

With how prevalent the immigration crisis currently is, I knew it was a subject that I not only wanted to know more about, and one that I needed to know more about. In order to expose myself to the unfiltered, uncensored truth, I chose to join Las Fronteras, and see the complexity of the border for myself.

During the trip, I was exposed to a number of “firsts”. It was my first time eating In-N-Out, petting two-week old puppies, going to Arizona, leaving the U.S., and my first time socializing with people who didn’t speak my native language. And along with the numerous new experiences, I heard countless stories, proving that the immigration crisis cannot be simplified to just one narrative.

We went to two migrant shelters this week: Las Torres and La Roca. At Las Torres, there was a man, Miguel Angelo, who was staying at the shelter with his wife and two kids. They were from Guerrero in southern Mexico, where Miguel owned a food store. However, the Cartel in the area continued asking him for more and more money, until it was impossible for him to comply. With fear for his, and his family’s lives, Miguel sold his car, and his family took the bus all the way to Nogales, Sonora. He now wishes to enter the U.S. as an asylum seeker, live with his father in San Francisco, and work in construction. But what I remember the most about Miguel and his story, was that everything he had done was for his family. I remember his smile as he looked at his daughter. I remember that his sole concern was their safety and happiness.

At La Rocca, a young woman named Sonia spoke of the violence in Nicaragua that drove her from her home. Students were protesting in the streets, armed with only their voices, flags, and signs. The police, on the other hand, used excessive force to deter these protests. Many people were killed, and many others arrested. Sonia, and another Nicaraguan woman, said that the country was nothing like the one they had grown up in. Sonia spoke with a powerful voice; her passion was clear and transcended the barrier of language. When we asked her what she wants people in the U.S. to know about migrants like her, she told us that no one wants to leave their home. As she said this, the other women in the room nodded their heads and murmured in agreement. They didn’t want to leave, they needed to.

At both migrant shelters, the attitude of the kids was particularly inspiring. When we went to Las Torres, we brought games, puzzles, and a soccer ball for them. The kids were so willing and happy to play with us, though we couldn’t even speak their language. A young boy started a soccer game on the little concrete patio. He made makeshift goals from pillows, bags and boxes. We ran and we kicked, ducking under the clotheslines and occasionally knocking down a shirt, or a pair of socks. It may not have been much of a soccer field, but it was more than enough for us to have fun. At La Roca, a little girl came up to me and my sister, and handed us her teddy bears. That was so meaningful because those bears were likely some of her only possessions, and yet, she was willing to share them with a complete stranger. A few minutes later, a boy gave us all homemade, beaded keychains. The children at both of these shelters welcomed us, and they were all a valuable reminder that joy can be found in the simplest of things.

This trip was proof that there’s so much more to these people’s lives than just a statistic, or just one news story. There are so many perspectives on the current U.S.-Mexican border crisis; from the migrants, border control, native tribes, customs officers, ranchers, U.S. citizens, Mexican citizens, and countless more. Moreover, it’s essential to remember that even these groups of people are made up of unique opinions and distinct stories. These are individual humans, and each and every one of them deserves to be treated with honest compassion and true humanity. Thank you, Las Fronteras, for allowing me to experience this truth for myself.

-Mikayla, St. Chrysostom’s, Quincy and Brockton Covenant, Brockton

Final Thoughts: Helen

I chose to participate in Las Fronteras with the purpose of broadening my way of thinking about the world. I desired to see beyond the cushioned, privileged bubble that is my life. I certainly went out of my comfort zone to achieve this ambition. Throughout this pilgrimage, my fellow travelers and I received firsthand accounts and experiences demonstrating the truths behind the border crisis.

One of the most powerful moments of this trip was our visit to the migrant shelter in Mexico. Going to the shelter was such an incredible experience because we heard stories from asylum seekers about their respective situations. The conditions from which these migrants are fleeing from in their home countries are extremely perilous and life-threatening. I met a man named Miguel Angelo and he told me his story. He was fleeing from southern Mexico to escape the drug cartel because he could no longer afford to pay the cartel, and he feared for his family and his own life. Miguel, his two young daughters and his wife came to the border to apply for asylum status in the United States. This story illuminates the fact that these people are not coming to the United States simply because they want to. Very few of these immigrant wish to leave behind their homes, relatives, lives and everything they know. On the contrary, they are fleeing with their families as refugees, begging for asylum to save their lives.

The second day that we went to the shelter, we brought toys, puzzles and books to the children. I was selected to carry the toys from the van into the shelter and I was mesmerized by the reaction we received. The children ran up to me, grinning ear to ear. The parents were equally grateful for the toys we brought for their children. I sat on the pavement with the kids and spoke with them in Spanish, while playing Candy Land and doing puzzles. I enjoyed a chance to practice my Spanish, and their appreciation of me speaking their native language was heartwarming. My experience with these children truly humbled me; I learned so much more from these migrant children than I ever thought I could. The excitement of these people gave me insight not only into their lives and stories, but also myself. The sheer joy that I saw of what we may find insignificant, such as puzzles and cards creating such immense joy made me ponder the beliefs of my culture. We often are so focused on our first world problems that we don’t appreciate the smaller things which truly matter. We focus on things which, in the grand scheme, really don’t matter. Seeing the happiness even in the worst conditions gave me incredible insight into my own life and beliefs.

A second incident which shook me to my core was our experience watching the streamlined court trials. As we were sitting in the courtroom, the first migrant tried walked out and what I saw will haunt me forever. All of the migrants in the courtroom were chained at their feet, and they were in handcuffs attached to a chain around their waists. The sight of this made my heart drop. These people come to our country seeking asylum and are treated horrifically. I am baffled by our system’s  absence of compassion for these people.

Sharing these stories and experiences is vital because it brings an element of humanity into the news we hear from the press. We are all too often indifferent to others’ pain and suffering, especially when they are not close to us. It is difficult to see the truth without seeing what is going on firsthand, and being so distant from the site of the crisis and the people whom it affects. It is my hope that every person I share these stories with can at least have more insight into the truths of the dangerous conditions that are causing these migrants to leave their homes, and that we may have compassion for these people. Each and every one of them needs our help; there is no easy solution for this crisis. The most powerful thing I can do to help is to share the stories and experiences I collected and keep them raw. No modifying, no sugar coating. These sacred narratives must remain how they were told by the people who lived them.

-Helen, St. John’s, Hingham

Final Thoughts: Kieron

Coming back from the Las Fronteras trip, I am able to take back the stories that people have told us over the past week.  When I first decided to come on Las Fronteras, I joined so that I could find out for myself about what the border situation was like near Mexico rather than just trust the reports that I heard on the news.  While on the trip, I met Astrid at the Primeria Alta Historical Museum who told me about the history of the border and about her life away from it as part of the State Department; Michael who told me stories about his life and about living in a migrant shelter; Sonya who talked about being a student protester in Nicaragua and walking up to Nogales, Sonora; the Border Patrol agents who described their side of things; and so many more. 

Out of these stories, the one that resonated the most was with Astrid and her story of the history of the border fence.  When listening to Astrid, I learned from her story that during her mother’s youth, there was not a fence at all and that during her youth, there was only a Mexican cattle fence through which they bought sodas in Mexico if they were cheaper there than the US.  This fence stayed for a long period over which they had festivals at the border and had a parade on Cinco de Mayo with floats going down the border and people on both sides celebrating.  Then, September 11, 2001 came and a new, larger fence was put up made of surplus helicopter landing materials which in recent years has been changed to be a see-through fence with more surplus military supplies..  Not too long ago mesh was added on which makes it not almost impossible to do communion or share a meal through the fence as many faith groups would do before the mesh. 

According to Astrid though, the worst part of the fence is the newly added in the last year by the US Army: constantina wire.  This type of barbed wire is placed in 2-3 swirls at the top of the US side of the border.  Astrid said that the wire looks so horrible right now as it seems as though the Americans are being kept in, rather than the Mexicans being kept out.  One of Astrid’s friends from West Germany once told her that it looks like the Berlin Wall just without landlines.  Now sharing this story is important for currently, this fence is keeping cultures from blending and being fluid as they were in the past.  Astrid herself does not believe in the fact that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, but she does say that this looks like history repeating itself.

-Kieron, St. John’s, Saugus

Final Thoughts: Freddie

I have learned a lot about the border and the people crossing the border on this trip. Everything from meeting with customs and border protection to visiting the migrant shelters and bringing them toys, games, and books taught me a lot about the whole situation. There were many memorable stories that I will remember for the rest of my life. Here are just a few.

One thing I definitely will not forget is playing soccer with the kids at “La Torres” shelter in Nogales, Sonora.  We played with bags as goal posts and had to duck under the clothes lines every time we ran by them. These kids will use whatever they have to have fun, and it really made me realize just how similar we are.

Another memory I will always remember was meeting with customs and border protection. We learned a lot about what they do and all the different branches, but what I found most interesting was how much the news just uses their name as a collective term, when sometimes it wasn’t even one of their branches that did anything. For example, if I.C.E. did something that made the news, sometimes the media would say it was CBP.

Another memory I won’t forget was dropping of water with the Samaritans, a humanitarian organization based in Tucson. We hiked 3 miles in the hot Sonoran desert with water jugs to put along the trail for migrants so if they run out of water they will be able to survive. This was powerful because it was hard to do the 3 mile hike we did in the heat and with all the bees and I cannot even imagine hiking from the border to Phoenix which is what lots of migrants do.

Overall this was an amazing journey and I would definitely recommend it to anybody looking for something powerful and fun to do over the summer.

-Freddie, St. Elizabeth’s, Sudbury

Final Thoughts: Charlie

I joined Las Fronteras to learn about what was really going on at the border.  On the trip, I met many people who told me stories of what goes on in their home countries and the racism and challenges they've faced in their travels.   One of these stories is that of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. 

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was a teenager from Nogales, Sonora who was shot and killed by a Border Patrol Agent after throwing a few rocks at the agent.  The Agent was found not guilty in all charges and video of the event strangely disappeared.  This hit really close to home because from when I was born until I was 10 years old I lived about 15 minutes away from Ferguson, Missouri.  A few months after I moved, a young black man, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a police officer for virtually no reason.  The officer was found not guilty in this situation as well.  I know how something like this shakes a community to its core.  At least Michael Brown's death was controversial and people were talking about it, whereas I had never heard of Jose before the trip. 

These stories are so important to share because people need to know how immigrants are real people, just like you and me.  They aren't evil, they don't want to take over our economy, they just want a better life.  They deserve happiness just as much as us.  It's not ok how they are treated and people need to realize how racist our systems are, and sharing these stories can make people realize how bad this issue is and then we can make some much needed change to this world.

-Charlie, St. Paul’s, Newburyport

Thursday, 15 August

"But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth."
I John 3: 16-18

Our trip to the Federal Courthouse in Tucson to observe the Operation Streamline proceedings generated a bit of a shock to us today and also challenged some of our preconceived ideas.  

Yesterday while driving through the desert and hiking the migrant trail in the Ajo and Sasabe region, we saw evidence of significant border patrol activity including drones, helicopters, many Border Patrol vehicles, and even Border Patrol Agents taking migrants into custody.  While we talked about these observations a couple of times during and after our hike, we also enjoyed the comforts of modern life including hot showers, restaurant food, and the pool. Imagine our surprise when we realized that at least two of the four dozen migrants presented at Operation Streamline this afternoon were picked up yesterday in the Sasabe region.   What had they been doing in the 24 hours since being taken into custody?  

In preparing for Operation Streamline, some of us had grave concerns that the process might not respect the dignity and rights of the migrants.  The judge demonstrated care for the migrants while following the law and making sure that they understood the proceedings. For example, one migrant had found a dead body in his travels and wanted to make sure that the body was located and properly taken care of for the peace of the family.  The judge agreed for him to be interviewed by Border Patrol prior to deportation to help locate the body and to meet with either a chaplain or counselor to address his emotional distress that was in response to finding the deceased human and not being able to immediately help. 

One thing that has not changed is our realization that the challenges of migration are incredibly complex.  Every person that we have talked with while in Arizona and Mexico has expressed discontent with the current state of the issue and recognized a need for a significant overhaul of the system.   

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The conditions in the communities from which refugees are pouring out of so rapidly are life threatening to all those who reside there. These migrants are extremely desperate to escape the imminent danger they are exposed to; from drug cartels, to economic and political oppression, and numerous other life-threatening emergencies. These people do not want to leave their homes. They are forced out, fleeing for their lives to obtain asylum in our country where these refugees believe they will be safe. Before reaching our country, they go through hell in attempt to make a safer life for themselves and their families.

Today, we hiked through one of the migrant trails in the desert and left behind water at marked spots for these people to have access to while crossing our border. Although we only hiked about 3 miles total, it was absolutely unfathomable to imagine the toll that hiking through those conditions for 3 full days would have on the human body. The heat was almost unbearable. The sun scalded down relentlessly and there was barely any shade. Despite the fact that we only walked about 3 miles, every one of us was exhausted by the end. The desert is full of bees and bugs (2 of us were stung), cacti, rough terrain, and a scorching sun that was “hotter than hell.”

As we drove away, I began to visualize the struggle of the migrants and asylum seekers hiking for 3 days along this desolate desert trail. These people have among them young children, pregnant women, and infants. How desperate they must be to go through this torture to flee their home countries is inconceivable. Driving along the dirt roads through this desert, we saw multiple crosses. These crosses show where a migrant’s body has been found. We drove miles and passed numerous crosses. These people are risking their lives just for a strand of hope that they will have safety and security in our country. The lengths they will go in order to reach a place in which them and their families will be able to survive without constant threat of death is extreme, as it should be. Seeing the difficulty that these migrants endure in coming to our country displays the desperate plea for help and asylum. Seeing this makes me realize that these asylum seekers deserve significantly more respect than we give them. They have given everything to reach safety and desperately desire a new life for themselves and their family, which does not revolve around danger and death at every turn.

I wish that all people will be able to see that asylum seekers are not just leaving for a better life or because they want to. They flee their home countries to save theirs and their families lives, and we must respect their cry for help. We must respect these people and welcome them to our country. They have endured unfathomable levels of pain and hardship to reach our country and we must welcome them in as our own. We ask that you please take into account all that these people go through and begin to realize how much they need our help.

Martes, 13 Augusto 2019

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that to go on living I have to tell stories, that stories are the one sure way I know to touch the heart and change the world.”

— Dorothy Allison, American writer, speaker and member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers

As we stood along the harsh fence along the border, we learned about a boy who was shot and killed right by the border. Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was a 16-year-old boy who was on the Mexican side of the border when a border patrol agent shot him in the head and killed him, then shot him 9 more times in the back as he lay dead on the street. His pistol’s magazine would have been less than 10 rounds- meaning while he was killing Antonio he must have reloaded at some point.  He claimed that Jose had been throwing rocks at him and he felt threatened for his life. We saw where Jose’s body was found and it was too far from the fence for that story to be true. Also, the Border Patrol agent could have just retreated to his armored vehicle where he would have been safe even if he was in danger in the first place, but he decided to shoot instead.  But the border patrol agent was found not guilty in criminal and civil charges. On the top of the fence, there are cameras that capture footage of any movement happening along the border and we saw those cameras today. We saw the live footage from the cameras sitting on top of the fence when we visited the radio room at the Nogales Border Patrol Station. But apparently, the cameras weren’t working on that day Jose was shot. No footage could be found and therefore, another injustice was ignored. Most of us in the group had never heard that story before today. This is a story that everyone should know.  We also went to migrant shelters and listened to people’s stories and why they fled their home countries.  A young lady from Nicaragua told her story of how she protested against their corrupt government, who sent armed military and police and tried to kill these peaceful protesters.  Since she was a protester, she described how she feared for her life from the violence back home.  She told us how no one wants to leave their homes- but they are forced to when faced with danger to themselves or their family and want them to be safe.  This is so important because there is so much misinformation about the people attempting to cross the border when the vast majority of them just want a better, safer life, when many people make them out to all be drug traffickers, gang members, among other terrible things.  In conclusion, it is the telling and listening to these stories that allows us to form human connections which will help make our world safer for as many people as possible.