Reflections from the Border: Crossing Borders

Reflections from the Border: Crossing Borders

At the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana in 2015, we were blessed to offer hospitality to 6,500 people thanks to the generosity of so many wonderful people. However, I must admit that, at times, life at the Casa can be very frustrating. We come in contact with the victims of shattered dreams who arrive every single day. We offer them the basics of food, clothing and shelter but what we cannot offer them is the hope of a better future. The majority who arrive are husbands and fathers who have left behind wives and children with no real hope of ever “legally” returning to their families in the United States. Congress has smashed their American dream into a million pieces, and while the Obama administration has tried to offer some glimpse of hope for some people with his ‘Executive Order’ there are still many politicians who continue to play with people`s lives by trying to take away even this small glimpse of hope.

As I write this reflection, I cannot help but visualize the faces of so many men who have arrived at the Casa as victims of shattered dreams. In particular, I am thinking of Jose, who was originally from Jalisco, Mexico and, until a few months ago, was living what he would call a good life in Sacramento, California with his wife and three children. The nightmare of his shattered dream began when, faced with the dilemma of never seeing his mother alive again, he made the decision to return to Jalisco to visit her after she received the death sentence of cancer. Jose knew he was undocumented and might not be able to return to the states, but in October 2014 he went back home to see his mom. Ironically, one month later President Obama signed an executive order which was designed to help people like Jose, however since he had left for Mexico one month earlier he would not be able to quality for this program. I had the pleasure to talk with Jose in mid-January when he shared his story with me. Now perhaps most of us would think he would be a bitter and angry man, yet in speaking with him I found myself being lifted up. In his own words, Jose said:

“Father I want to thank God for this Casa, it is a special place. Last night, I tried to cross back over the border without papers and I was deported. I am so blessed to be here at the Casa because here I feel safe. Who knows where I would be if this Casa did not exist – maybe I would be in the street or maybe I would even be dead. This is a great place and all of you are doing some great things here. I hope, when I get my life together and have some extra money, I might be able to make a small donation so you can help more people.”

It is the Joses that we meet as guests at the Casa that keep us motivated to keep going in spite of all the frustrations that can easily eat away at our energy. It is because of people like Jose that we have been able to assist about 240,000 people in the last 28 years

However, at times I continue to wonder, “What else can we do?” In fact, I often think,“What might our founder Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini do or say if he were alive today?”

I think he would agree with me that just sitting back and waiting for Congress to move forward is no longer a viable option for the millions of immigrants who continue to wait and to suffer on a daily basis. Perhaps it is time to do something else! Perhaps it is time for a revolution! Let me share with you some inspiring words of 3 religious leaders.

Pope Francis on the occasion of World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2014 offers us a clear challenge, when he emphatically states:

“Our hearts do desire something ‘more’…they want to ‘be’ more. Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women, men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”

In the 1930s, Dorothy Day, a champion of radical hospitality stated the need of her day, as well as the need for our day, when she said:

“The greatest challenge of our day is this: How to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”

Finally, in 1887 Blessed Scalabrini spoke about the lamentable situation of Italian immigrants (which can easily applied to the migrants of today), when he said:

“Those who would like to put a stop or limit to emigration for patriotic or economic reasons and those who, because of a mistaken idea of freedom, want emigration to be left to itself, without direction or guidance, are either not using their heads or, in my opinion, are reasoning as selfish and insensitive persons.”

The challenge is clear – our hearts must desire to do something more – in fact I would boldly suggest we must start a revolution of the heart. We cannot afford to wait, the time is now and all are migrant brothers and sisters are placing their hopes in us.

The famous TV program, Star Trek, began each episode with the bold proclamation: “Space, the Final Frontier.” I believe that we need to reframe the concept and say the human heart is and will always be the final frontier and for that reason we need to do some serious reflecting about what I like to call the borders of the heart.

About a year ago we were blessed with the visit of 18 protestant pastors from the midwest of the United States who came to Tijuana for a four day immersion experience. During one of the sharing sessions, one pastor asked, “Father Pat how do you define borders and why do they exist?” A great question to which, with one of my stock responses, I replied: “Well borders exist to control the ebb and flow of people and products between two countries. These borders tighten and loosen depending on economic conditions, as well as the need for cheap labor.”

I have been thinking that there also exists another type of border that is even more difficult to define and more challenging to cross over and it is here I refer to the “borders of the heart.” In essence, these borders of the heart exist in every part of every single country and in every place that human beings live and breathe. In fact, I think it is here where we need to have the desire to do more. It is here where the revolution of the heart must happen so that some form of comprehensive immigration reform might become a reality.

If this revolution of the heart is to happen all of us need to accept the responsibility to do more for our immigrant brothers and sisters and work at changing hearts one at a time.

Here are a few suggestions to do something more and get the revolution started:

  1. We need to help people cross over the borders of their heart by humanizing the immigrants – they are not aliens nor can they be reduced to mere statistical numbers. Immigrants are human beings and demand our respect so let’s work at changing the conversation and putting a human face on every single immigrant.
  1. We need to help people cross over the borders of their heart by providing them with the truth. We need to be more diligent in getting the facts out or else people’s hearts will be filled with the garbage of the 24 hour news cycle that seeks out sensationalism over humanization. Let’s try to become part of the conversation and change people hearts with the right information.
  1. We need to help people cross over the borders of their heart by preaching and teaching the Catholic social teaching of the Church without hesitation and with courage. True conversion can only happen if the heart is shaped by the sound teaching of what Jesus has taught. It is time to become familiar with this Church teaching and proclaim it from the rooftops in an effort to change people’s hearts.

I think we have reached a crucial point in the process of immigration reform. We can no longer trust our political system to do the right thing. We need to take personal responsibility and do more to allow the revolution of the heart to begin with each and every one of us as active participants in the process of immigration reform, which God willing can happen sooner than later because Jose is waiting for our help!

Fr. Pat Murphy, c.s.
Casa del Migrante – Centro Scalabrini
Tijuana, Mexico