Reflections from the Border

On the New President

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

Credit: Center for Migration Studies of New York

Reflections from the Border: On the New President

Since May 26, 2016, the Casa del Migrante has been inundated by press from all over the world. It seems like just about everyone wants to know more about the many refugees arriving at the border in Tijuana. In the next few days, I will do my 275th interview in the last eight months. Reporters seem to be coming from the far corners of the world, including China, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Guatemala and, of course, the United States and Mexico. At this juncture, I can say that I am tired of answering what seems like the same set of questions repeatedly. Of course, most times I try to be creative and come up with new ways of telling the same story. Unfortunately, this blog is part of the problem because every time I write something for CMS, I usually get an email or phone request for yet another interview. But I have come to realize that this is an important story that needs to be told and so I will continue to respond to media requests as best as I can.

However, on November 8th everything seemed to change with the chilling announcement that Donald Trump would indeed be the next president of the United States. As the news was shared, the words that came to my mind were “shock,” “disbelief,” “regret,” and “dismay.” Now that two months have passed, I have begun to realize that the nightmare has become reality. It is a sad a time for all migrants and refugees throughout the world.

The huge wall that President Trump wants to build along the US-Mexico border will embody the message of hatred and exclusion that has fermented. It has become a wall of hatred in the hearts of so many people. This deeper wall is very dangerous for any person who looks differently. In the weeks after the election, we have seen this hate come alive in the streets of the United States, as well as in the classrooms. We have entered a stage of our nation’s life in which the potential for much evil is a real possibility.

In my 64 years of life, I have never heard stories of children bursting into tears at the announcement of a new president. Yet, this is what happened when many children heard that Donald Trump had become the President-elect. There is something very wrong when this happens in a country like the United States.

Here at the Casa, the initial reactions were subdued but overwhelmingly sad. On an average evening we have about 150 guests: 100 Haitians, 40 deported Mexicans and a sprinkling of folks from places like Sierra Leone, Togo, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. All those who live at the Casa have the same common dream of a better life in the United States. However, at this moment, not a single person is optimistic or remotely hopeful that Trump’s election will make their dreams come true.

Since the election, the media onslaught has continued but what has changed is the focus of the interviews and the million-dollar question has become a very simple: Father Pat, now that Donald Trump has been elected president, what effect will his presidency have on the Casa and on the lives of immigrants and asylum seekers?

Every time I hear this question it hits me like a bucket of cold water. From where I sit, it seems to me that we are heading towards a perfect storm for immigrants and refugees. The factors lining up to create this disaster are the following:

  • The nonstop and continuous flow of asylum seekers from the south (in the month of the December, Tijuana received 2,700 Haitians);
  • In May, we were five Casas for Migrantes in Tijuana and today there are 33 shelters offering hospitality (none of which are operated by the Mexican government);
  • The lethargic snail-like pace rate in which the US government processes asylum cases (they accept only 50-60 people a day);
  • The standard US rejection of all Mexicans seeking asylum as they flee the violence of places like Guerrero and Michoacán (most are not even being given credible fear interviews by US authorities, notwithstanding the law); and
  • The promised mass deportations by President Trump could be stronger than any el Niño storm we have ever witnessed, and let us not forget his additional promises of a huge wall and possible suspension of DACA.

This situation has left me wondering as a Scalabrinian missionary for migrants: Where do I find the hope in what looks like a very hopeless situation? In fact, this is the question for all of us who are coming face to face with this perfect storm.

I have been thinking a lot about this and I have arrived at the conclusion that just maybe the silver lining of this nightmare can be found in the possibility that this election will be a giant wake-up call for all the US immigrants who never got around to becoming citizens. I find hope in the possibility that the election of Donald Trump will motivate millions of immigrants living in the United States to study and to prepare to become citizens so that in 2020 they will vote, and we can all wake up from this four-year nightmare that started on November 8, 2016.

In the meantime, my hope and my prayer for all the immigrants and refugees of the world is that they not give up, but instead be inspired by what Pope Francis suggested when he visited Ciudad Juarez: Let us live and act as Christians and let us try to build bridges and not walls.

January 26, 2017