During this Year of Mercy, it seems particularly jarring to hear stories of families fleeing violence in Syria: The unimaginable terror at home turning into unimaginable terror on the trip toward safety. What state of desperation would lead a family on this journey?
The whole experience of migration in the Middle East and Europe seems unreal, as I live safely in Minnesota. Vulnerable people fleeing for their lives. Countries welcoming—Countries closing their borders. Fear everywhere.
I want to help. But it seems unlikely that I can have any impact. So I wonder, what is the situation on the U.S. border? What is happening in my own country? How are we treating those escaping state sponsored violence or life threatening poverty?
To find answers to these questions, I joined a small group of Basilica parishioners on a trip to the Mexico/US border. We met with groups living and working on the border, and heard stories of people seeking shelter in our country. I learned so much about things I never hear on mainstream media. While I am still processing what I experienced, I am confident about two things: This is an issue our faith calls us to be actively engaged in. And, this is an issue that is very relevant to us in Minnesota.
To be sure, this is a complicated issue. The issue of immigration intersects with a myriad of laws and government policies. It taps into conflicting emotions on national identity. Yet, hearing people share their stories of desperation, and witnessing the physical drama of deportation, I became convicted of the simple truth that we must enter the confusion, learn, and get involved. We must act on behalf of the most vulnerable—to serve, accompany, and defend the migrants on our border. Complicated, yes. But through the lens of faith, a bit more clear.
I learned several things on this trip to the U.S. southern border:
I learned about harsh and punitive policies and laws the U.S. government has put in place, with the expectation that this will deter migration.
I also learned when one is desperate enough—fleeing violence or oppression—these policies or laws are not effective. It is absolutely beyond my imagination to understand the despair one must feel to cross the Mediterranean Sea, or the Sonora desert. Yet, this is the plight of our sisters and brothers all around our globe—including on our southern border. Our neighbors are desperate and need our help. How shall we respond?
I learned, while the Sonora desert is one of the most lush and beautiful deserts in the world, it has also become one of the deadliest corridors for migrants. Since the mid-1990s, at least 6,000 men, women, and children have died trying to cross the US/Mexico border. In an attempt to deter migration, government policies have funneled migrants into the most dangerous and remote areas of the border.
I learned as immigration laws and borders have changed over time—it is now a felony to re-enter the United States without proper papers. A felony crime. As a first-generation American, I am troubled by the criminalization of migration. As a Christian, I am appalled.
I invite you to join me over this next year to learn more about immigration, and to find ways to get involved. Together with migrant brothers and sisters in our community, we can work our way through this complicated issue. Pope Francis states, “Migrants trust that they will encounter acceptance, solidarity, and help, that they will meet people who will sympathize with the distress and tragedy experienced by others.” Let us live up to this trust.