What is a Border? (this appeared as my monthly newsletter article to my congregation)
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ –Matthew 25:34-40
Several years ago, I spent a week at the border in Tijuana, Mexico with a group of pastors. We stayed at a place that housed men who had been deported from the United States. We heard their stories, prayed with them, and took the time to try to understand the complexities of immigration, asylum, and answering the question: What is a border?
To be honest, this was one of the times in my life that I was the most uncomfortable. As a young woman, I was certainly out of my comfort zone to be staying in such a place, not knowing Spanish, and surrounded by men who were experiencing trauma. But there was beauty, sadness, and education in this experience. One of the young men we got to know had a tragic story as he encountered “the Beast.”
“The Beast” is a freight train that runs from southern Mexico to the US/Mexican border. Out of desperation for a better life, hundreds of people brave bandits, extreme heat and hunger, and cling to the wagons of “the Beast,” sometimes traveling up to 700 miles on the tops of the train cars or clinging to metal bars inches from the roaring wheels. Along the way, forces of evil assault and attack those most vulnerable. Brutal gang rapes, murders, and robberies are common. (Special thanks to Tracy and her blog which shares more of this story)
Our new friend was one such a victim of these unimaginable experiences. Having come all the way from Guatemala, he was now trying to find his family and he wasn’t sure where he would go next or how he would get there. After all, he had an additional challenge. “The Beast” had taken the bottom part of his leg. He was robbed and pushed, resulting in the loss of his leg the first time he rode. The second time he rode, his prosthetic leg, for which he worked over a year to pay for, was ripped from his body as he was beaten in his sleep. As we listened to his story and so many others, it became clear that something is very wrong with our systems, our treatment of human beings, and our lack of compassion.
Yes, there were men there who had committed a crime and had been deported, but they were in the minority. The rest of the men had been separated from their families, some having been working and established in the US for over 20 years, and now did not know when they would see them again. Some were simply trying to regroup and find work in Tijuana while they recovered from the trauma of escaping unfathomable circumstances in their home countries which caused them to flee.
I share this experience because we are experiencing not an “immigration crisis” in our country, but a human rights crisis. Those who come here seeking asylum from these situations are fleeing from ways of life that we cannot even imagine. Can you imagine having to make the decision to leave everything behind because your very life depended on it? Risking your future, the possibility of being separated from your family, and the unknown road ahead, just to be met with the kind of policies being enforced by this administration?
Separating families is wrong.
Forcing children into detainment centers is wrong.
Not knowing when or how these children will be in the arms of their parents again is unacceptable.
The way we are treating other human beings is wrong.
Listen to their stories. Hear their needs. Have compassion.
The United Methodist Church has a long-held stance on welcoming the stranger and migrant in our midst. In fact, at the Indiana Annual Conference last month, we unanimously approved a resolution entitled, “Welcoming the Migrant in Our Midst.” It states that
“The United Methodist Church affirms the worth, dignity, and inherent value and rights of all persons regardless of their nationality or legal status. Yet we have neighbors, co-workers, friends who have been separated from their loved ones or are living in fear of their families being torn apart through our broken immigration system. We call upon our political leaders and policymakers to assure our laws affirm the worth, dignity, inherent values and rights of immigrants and refugees. As the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, as followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to work to eliminate racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants from all parts of the world as well as those who have lived and worked among us for some time and that we express our opposition to any policy that breaks apart families.”
Our Social Principles state that, as United Methodists,
“We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.”
I ask you, as your pastor, to consider this: No person is “illegal.” People are people. As people of faith, we are called to welcome the stranger among us. What would Jesus do?
What is a border? Maybe it’s not as black and white as we think.