Well tomorrow marks 2 weeks since I embarked on a my semester-long journey. Please keep in mind that this post is only a small glimpse into my life these past 14 days and know that so much more has happened. I'm finding it very difficult to put into words what I've experienced thus far because when I just list off what we did, it sounds ridiculously trivial; however when I go in depth about a certain subject, it leaves out the rest of what we have done. I'll try my best to find a happy medium... so here goes! (Also, the computer that I'm posting this from is not letting me post pictures. Which is a bummer. So that will happen when I can figure out how to do that.
Main observations: Our group has gotten the incredible opportunity to experience almost all of the perspectives you will find on this immigration issue. We've also gotten to see migrants who are all at different stages of the immigration process. We've seen people who are trying to cross, we've seen some who are living in the US without documentation, we've seen those who are in dentention centers, we saw those who are in the court room ready for their trial, we've seen people being deported at the fence of Mexico and the United States, we've talked with people who had just been deported back to Mexico and are trying to figure out to do next, and we've talked with people that have been deported for years but are living at the border trying to figure out what to do next. I've felt increasingly frustrated because I feel that so few people fully understand the whole process. Many of the prosecutors, border patrol, and other members of the law enforcement that we've met with only see their one step of the process and never know what happens to the migrants they deal with after they have made their decision and send them on their way. There are many people who simply just do their job to get it done, rather than realizing innocent people are just trying to make a better life for themselves in a place where they can provide for their family. It has left me wondering if the process would still be the same if all of the law enforcers had to follow the people they sentence thru the entire process to understand just how unjust the system is.
We left EMU around 3 on Wednesday, January 7th and flew to Tucson, AZ. We stayed there for the first 3 days where we crossed the border several times, met with different organizations such as Kino Border Initiative, HEPAC, and Casa Mariposa. We had the opportunity to talk with people who had just been deported that day and hear what they are thinking of doing next. Many have the desire to cross again while others are tired and just want to go back to their homes with the people they love. The next day, the majority of our group went to visit the Florence Detention Center and got a tour while a small group of 4 of us got the chance to visit EPOC, another place where immigrants are being held until their court dates. The four of us got the opportunity to speak with several women for 2 hours and to hear their story and chat. It was a strangely uplifting, yet sobering experience. The women that I spoke with were only several years older than me but their opportunities in life are so much more limited. However, it was wonderful to laugh about the trivial things together and build a connection that way.
Continuing on, our group travelled to a small border town called Agua Prieta that is closest to Douglas, AZ on the US side. An organization called Frontera de Cristo arranged all of our visits and experiences that week. We would being every day with a Bible study in a unique location. We went to the border wall that runs between the United States and Mexico for 4 of our studies, however they were all different parts. Having the looming presence of the wall behind us put a new perspective and interpretation to the familiar words we were reading. The community center where we stayed in AP (Agua Prieta) was a lovely place. In the evenings we would gather in the main room for games, singing, and fellowship with one another. One night the gas ran out in the house and we had no heat, which was pretty chilly. AP is highly elevated and we were in long pants, sweaters, hats, and gloves the entirety of our visit there. The water also frequently was gone which provided an interesting dynamic as well, but those things didn't matter in the big picture.
One day in AP, we visited a place called C.R.R.E.D.A. which is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. It was interesting to see first-hand that these substances don't discriminate on race, gender, or age. The people these were incredibly hospitable and friendly. We then drove 750 gallons of water out to a "water drop" for migrants who are wandering thru the desert. After completing this, we hiked thru the brush, dried-up riverbeds, mud trenches, and sandy ground following paths that migrants take and went to the wall. It was incredibly sobering to imagine thousands of people completing this journey at night, with no lights and little food and water.
Throughout the week there were a plethora of families connected to Frontera de Cristo and various people we met that cooked us meals. For those of you who know about my eating habits... I've successfully learned how to eat beans, either whole or refried, so this has helped tremendously! However, I still have a long way to go; but I'm trying as much as I can. The hospitality of the people who we've met is overwhelming. They have so little, but they open us with welcome arms into their houses and cook us meals.
On Friday of this past week we had quite the eventful day. In the morning we went to visit a Border Patrol station. We got a tour of their facility, a presentation, and time to talk with the different agents that were around. I felt very sickened by being in this place. There were propaganda posters all over that had slogans such as, "So you can't wear your bulletproof vest while you run? Better hot than shot!" On this poster were migrants running with guns towards an unarmed border patrol agent without a vest on. Another read, "Who said work can't be fun?!" The picture was of Border Patrol agents on 4-wheelers chasing migrants. The presentation that was given by the agents was rather tense. We were allowed to ask questions of them, but they never gave us exact answers. They either skirted around the answer, redirected the question, said, "I don't know", or said they weren't allowed to answer it. One of the agents said, "Something that really touches my heart is this book memorial for all of the 136 agents who have been killed on duty since 1924." However, the most recent statistic for immigrant deaths is that over 6,000 of them have perished in the desert in the last 10 years. This is not to say that any one death is not important as another, but rather I was amazed at the way they were able to rationalize the work they were doing and not care about all of the harm they are causing innocent people. Later that night though, we went to the home of a current Border Patrol agent who considers himself to be Christian and explained to us why he does the work he does. Surprisingly, the perspective he gave was very level-headed and rational. While I still have a very hard time justifying the work he does with his faith, I did come away at the end of the day feeling more confused than ever and realizing that this issue is so much more complicated that anyone knows .
Main questions that I'm still left with: How will I be able to come back to university and simply stay in school doing homework that will seem pointless when I'll want to be out there, trying to make a difference? How long is the system that we have in the US sustainable? When will the breaking point come? How can our country continue to be so discriminatory time after time after time when we are, after all, a country who is built on immigrants?
On a lighter note, the group that I get to travel with is wonderful. They are inquisitive, thoughtful, and fun to be around. Not knowing anyone going to this trip was an interesting beginning, but we continue to grow closer every day and are looking forward for the next adventure ahead.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), we hop on a plane and fly to Guatemala City, where we will be studying Spanish and living with host families for the next two months. If you've made it this far down, congratulations. That was a lot of scattered thoughts to take in. Hope you all are well and I can't wait to share more stories with you when I return!