Impressions and Reflections on My First Experience of the US-Mexico Border
September 20, 2019
I had the privilege of participating in a recent trip to the Arizona-Mexico border to learn about conditions for migrants. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national network hub of 125 Jewish Community Relations Councils around the country and 17 national Jewish agencies, led the delegation of Jewish community leaders on a fact-finding trip to the Arizona-Mexico border to examine US policies and witness conditions facing migrants and asylum seekers firsthand. The aim of the trip was for participants to better understand the situation at the border in order to more effectively advocate for sound immigration policies.
After three days of intense experiences and learning together with amazing, committed Jewish community leaders from around the United States, I would agree that we are in crisis — a crisis that has been decades in the making and that has been a bipartisan effort. Years of multilayered US policies at home and abroad have led to this current situation that is not going to be easily unraveled.
I am heartbroken after meeting migrants fleeing violence in their home countries who have traveled weeks over dangerous terrain only to wait for months in Mexico in crowded shelters for the opportunity to seek asylum in the US and who, with a 2 percent acceptance rate, will likely be denied asylum after enduring monthslong legal processes only to be sent back to the dangerous lands from which they fled.
I am angered by the militarization of the peaceful US-Mexico border which began in 1994 with the construction of a metal wall to prevent the anticipated influx of Mexican immigrants seeking work following the economic devastation that came with the free trade agreement, and by the ever increasing funding for border troops and security allocated by subsequent administrations to their historically high levels today.
I am disturbed by our criminal deportation process, where at the US District Court I observed the deportation and sentencing of 67 men and women — shackled in chains from their ankles, to their waists, to their wrists — in less than 40 minutes. And I am horrified at a system that would imprison a woman for two years who was brought to the United States under false, abusive pretenses and arrested when she volunteered herself to authorities seeking assistance.
I am brokenhearted. Just after returning home I learned that the Supreme Court has allowed the administration to deny asylum applications from migrants from countries who entered another country on their way to the United States, creating more uncertainty for those we met from Venezuela, Honduras, and Guatemala.
But I am given hope by organizations like Hogar de Esperanza y Paz on a mountaintop in Nogales, Mexico where migrant families can wait in safety before beginning the asylum process in the United States — where I met an engineering student fleeing Venezuela for fear of political persecution in his home state just because he attended university, who implored us to tell our fellow Americans that, “We are decent people and we are not coming to hurt anyone.” And where I connected with the small children playing around me — with whom I could not communicate — by showing them pictures of my own children.
And I am given hope by the volunteers at places like Casa Alitas who strive to return the dignity that has been systematically taken away from these human beings by giving them toothbrushes, underwear, medical care, and a safe place to sleep before embarking upon their next journeys to locations across the country as they await asylum proceedings.
I am inspired by the 22 individuals who joined me on this mission who have vowed to bear witness to what we have seen and to mobilize our local communities. I am excited for the possibility of all that we can accomplish and the potential for each of us to affect change, large and small.
Many say that our system is broken. I learned that the system is working perfectly — by design. Of the migrants we encountered, our local guide reminded us, “We have to see them as ourselves and ourselves as them.” We must all open our hearts and our minds and learn to talk to one another about this, plan ways to take action, and get to work.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone.