What's happening on our Southern Border?
A delegation of Wyoming and Colorado Presbyterians visited the border towns of Agua Prieta, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona in November, hosted by Frontera de Cristo (FDC), a Presbyterian partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.
We learned about the realities of life in the borderlands among migrants, asylum seekers, the Border Patrol, and Douglas, an American community benefiting from its partnership with Agua Prieta. Eighty percent of the sales tax Douglas collects comes from trade with residents of the Mexicans.
Before crossing the border, we walked and prayed along the bleak, brown U.S. side of the wall as the sun set behind distant mountains. While we prayed, four Board Patrol vehicles descended on a small, brown man who jumped the wall, sliding precariously through the razor wire strung on the U.S. side.
The writer Paul Theroux has better words to describe the wall. His book “On the Plains of Snakes,” Theroux calls it “a blacksmith’s barrier of antiquated ironmongery; old rusty ramparts running for miles, a visible example of national paranoia.”
Later, we walked along the Mexican side of the wall. On their side, artists turned the “antiquated ironmongery” into a work of art, displaying colorful murals.
Pope Francis suggests a theological way to understand that wall. "There are walls that even separate children from parents. Herod comes to mind. Yet for drugs, there’s no wall to keep them out. The phenomenon of migration is compounded by war, hunger and a ‘defensive mindset,’ which makes us in a state of fear believe that you can defend yourself only by strengthening borders. At the same time, there is exploitation."
On the Mexican side, FDC gives God a presence, partnering with others to serve poor families, provide drug treatment, and operate a hospitality care center for migrants.
Sharing supper, we listened to migrants waiting at the border to apply for asylum in the U.S. We heard harrowing stories of how these men, women, and children traveled north from their homes to escape violence at the hands of drug cartels.
The delegation learned about Café Justo, a cooperative created by FDC and Mexican coffee growers committed to finding ways to earn living wages so they could remain in their homes and afford to feed their children.
The cooperative enables farmers to shift profits from international corporations to members. Today, 115 families are supported by Café Justo. Member farmers no longer seek to enter the U.S. They have good lives in Mexico with the earnings from producing an excellent, chemical free and environmentally friendly coffee.
Support them by purchasing coffee from this website. https://www.justcoffee.org
We walked in the Sonora Desert, along a path migrants travel, endangered by the waterless, unforgiving terrain. It is a place where hundreds die every year trying to find a better life in the U.S.
The delegation also had a two-hour, candid Q&A session with two of the 500 Border Patrol officers stationed in Douglas. They talked about the drug trade and the cartels. One said that ‘in Douglas, there are two kinds of people. Those who work for the government and those who work for the cartels.” The latter include both drug traffickers and coyotes.
The BP officer was especially disdainful of the coyotes who extort excessive fees from poor, desperate migrants to lead them into the desert, abandoning some, raping and robbing others. “I like the drug dealers more than the coyotes,” he said.
Asked whether the President was correct in describing most of the migrants as “rapists, drug dealers, and bad hombres,” the officer made it clear he didn’t want to contradict the President but that in his experience the majority of those the patrol detains and deports are simply desperate people trying to find a better life for their families.
In closing he had good advice for all of us. He said whether supporting or opposing U.S. border policy, you should “educate yourself, be active, take part in demonstrations, write your congressmen.” Above all, he said, “be passionate.” That we are.