Reflections from the Border Watch

The group of Mayflower members participating in the UCC School of the Americas Border Watch Convergence at the Mexico/U.S. border October 5–10 blogged throughout the watch.

Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries, October 10, 2016—Day Five

border 3These days in Nogales, we lived a lot of life! Marching, learning, eating authentic Mexican food (and a little Denny’s for breakfast). We crossed the border into Nogales for a delicious meal in the former tourist destination. We discovered we had really crossed that border near Tuscon where the rule of Border Patrol trumps all other rights and aspirations of the immigrants who traverse it and the Native Americans who have never lived any where else. We marveled at the signs on Interstate Highway 19 that suddenly marked distances and exits in kilometers—a gesture of hospitality toward Mexican tourists dating from the Carter administration, out of place in today’s harsh climate of fear and enforcement.

There were countless moments of insight, discomfort, laughter, dancing, listening, and speaking up.

The lessons I found most valuable in this journey came from friends and colleagues in ministry discerning their congregation’s way in the desert. This morning, we worshiped with The Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarito, AZ, where the members have long been meeting the needs of immigrants in their midst and voicing moral concern for their welfare.

I was inspired by Pastor Randy Mayer who has been leading the church for 18 years in building trusted partnerships to offer assistance in the desert and prophetic hope in the entire UCC.

I was even more impressed by the members (who themselves migrated from the Midwest) who are practiced at the art of difficult yet compassionate conversation with their peers who lack understanding of issues or humanitarian need in the borderland.

The church was indeed born for such a time as this. In the coming months border2and years let us learn from the desert art of slow, steady growth and clear witness.

Susie George, October 9—Day Four

Wow. This has been a very full experience. This is the first day our activities were in Nogales at the Border Wall. Seems to me that this gathering and march and vigil was made more powerful by all the events and information we received from various groups in Tucson.

Today we all gathered in front of “The Americana Hotel” to set up for the march to the border. This is typically an exhilarating time where we meet people we have met in previous marches. A time to reconnect and get connected with everyone and anyone. It is a powerful thing to be among so many like-minded people. All of us there because we want to stand up and say NO to the horrendous immigration policies and tactics that are used on our siblings! We share and learn from one another about what work they are doing in their respective areas. (We had people here from Seattle, New York, San Diego, Chicago and Arizona and more. And I dare not forget to mention from Cleveland Ohio. UCC President and General Minister John Dorhauer was with us.)

Susie Photo 4There were estimated to be nearly 800 people on this march. It was amazing to see how far the line went from the beginning to the end. This little town of Nogales has probably not seen a march like this very often.

At one point at the march the group went in two different directions. Half continued to the US side of the border and the others went over to be on the Mexico side of the border. Along the route to the US side, we passed by the spot where Jose was shot be a Border Patrol Agent one year ago. It seems so shameful to have this in humane, ugly wall dividing people. Soon we were reunited again with the Mexico marchers. In spite of the wall we reached out to one another and to other Mexicans who came out to join us. It was a powerful experience.

Susie Photo 2It was then time to post our crosses on the Border Wall. This was amazing. The crosses that we have carried with us from the youth at Mayflower for this whole trip were now to become part of a work of art and hope on this wall. As people continued to add crosses, the UCC contingent, which was very strong, held a short and meaningful worship service. Many people stopped and joined us they were walking by. Our very own Emily and Mary were speakers at the worship.

Susie Photo 1Then we went on to workshops. We had quite a selection from which to choose. The workshops which I attended were packed. I took that to be a good sign as to the numbers of people taking advantage of the wealth of information provided. Since I am planning on going to Palestine/Israel in January, the workshop about the similarities of this border wall is to the one in Palestine/Israel was the one I selected. It is amazing and troublesome to hear and see the similarities.

I acknowledge that this has been more of a news report (although I don’t think there was much if any coverage) and it is because I am still working on all of this. In Chiapas MX one time I learned from a group of indigenous women that “you need to let the Word lower to your heart, where it rests awhile, before it comes out through our lives.” This is where I am at the moment. I am holding what I have experienced and am waiting and searching for the next right step.

Josephine Fernandez, October 8, 2016—Day Three

Sergio, Manuel and Jose have come to the Presbyterian Southside Church Worker Center every morning this past two weeks. They are here to take a chance to get picked up for day or two of work. They don’t speak any English and here nobody asks if one is documented or not. When we arrived at this church in Tucson on Friday morning, there were about 12-15 men sitting under the shade of trees or out at the entrance of the Center.  I sat and made friends with three of them. The Worker Center provides bathrooms complete with soap and shampoo to those who need some hygiene care before making themselves available outside to get an honest wage in exchange for a hard day’s toil. Eleazar Castellanos was our first teacher for the day. With greatimage2 pride he narrated to us how he started out just like Sergio and the rest of the guys. He has been deported once. Now he is back and is out of the shadows. He has learned that he has rights—and so do other men like him out on the streets looking for jobs. He feels empowered now because of his experience at the Center and from all leadership trainings & workshops he has attended. He said folks like him are not stealing jobs in this country, but that some are making profit out of their pain and suffering. He is now happy helping others become empowered like himself. This is a very inspiring program at the Presbyterian Southside Church in Tucson.

Our second stop for the day was at the Sierra Club Borderland. Here, Dan Millis had us expand our understanding about what were/are sacrificed in building the walls. Guess how many laws were broken (they call it waived) to construct 670 miles of wall? 37! Examples are: The Endangered Species Act, The National Environmental Policy Act, The Clean Water Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Clean Air Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, etc. He said this is the largest waiver of laws in U.S. history. Today, 653 miles, 354 walls, and 299 vehicle barriers have been built. He showed us examples of how walls block wildlife, of how they threaten certain species to survive, of how they cause flooding in border communities. And then he left us with a thought to ponder: what problem/s did the border wall fixed? We saw that borders do not work. But he did not leave us helpless and depressed. He offered us four examples of concrete actions we can take: One, help address root causes of the issue. This can be done by supporting immigration reform o by promoting sustainable development projects. Two, support grassroots outreach and media outreach programs. Three, work with Border Patrol by encouraging best practices or by mitigating change or enjoin them for restoration projects. Four, reach out to lawmakers by lobbying. There is a lot at stake at the border. And, we each can do something, he said.

Our third stop was at the Border Link office in Tucson where we listened to Josue Saldivar and Yesenia Palencia of the Mariposas Sin Fronteras. Their organization started as a rainbow defense fund. They were organized in order to respond on how best to support the LGBT in detention. Now they have expanded their support inside and outside detention. Yesenia narrated her personal story on how  she left El Salvador to run away from violence. She ended up with other 26 folks folks crossing the border. She told us how they were lost for three days and two nights without water, and running a fever. On how of the 27, only three of them eventually reached the city limits of the U.S. side. But that was how they were apprehended and got into detention. After more than a year in detention, she got lucky and was granted a bond of $15 K. Mariposas was there to help her out. Now she has a work permit and is working at Border Link and doing volunteer work at Mariposas. Mariposas is largely dependent on individual donors and they put on a lot of fund raising events in order to save lives of those who come to them for help, like Yesenia.

From Border Link, we drove some 45 minutes to Pinal County, to join other activists from around the country to have a vigil at Eloy Detention Center. Out in the middle of the desert there is there brown sprawling structure (much like Guantanamo), that houses undocumented immigrants. This is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America under contract with US ICE. Since this is considered a private proborder_blogperty we were only able to set up our vigil across from the detention center. It is was like a big reunion of old-timer activists and newer younger ones. Songs and chants were electrifying. Everyone’s spirit was palpably soaring. Banners, flags, shirt-signs, hat-pins, even signs on bags were all so inspiring: The revolution is about love. Stop the killing of my people. Close the SOA. Stop torture. Justice for Jose de Jesus. No more deaths. Standing on the side of love. Stop global wars on migrants. End imperialist war in migrants. People of faith call for justice for immigrants. It was reported that there are currently 1800 detained immigrants inside the detention center. There have been 150 unexplained deaths.

Jim Bush, Nogales Blog, October 7, 2016—Day 2

Today another “WOW” Day.

It began with learning about Operation STREAMLINE, which is a criminalization of our current immigration system. The border crossers are charged with both illegal entry (misdemeanor) and illegal re-entry (felony) with minimal legal representation. They are urged to enter a plea deal by pleading guilty to the lesser charge and have the felony charge dropped. Today we witnessed 40+ men and women in shackles receive sentences of 30 days to 180 days (maximum). At the completion of this they are deported. The pressing need to change our immigration system was brought home in a very real way.

Our mid-afternoon session was listening to Rev. John Fife, one of the founding members of the Sanctuary Movement in our country. It began in the early 1980s in response to a need that refugees needed/deserved: More Humane Treatment. He formed a coalition of church groups to become sanctuaries for the refugees—feeding, clothing, and housing them despite opposition from ICE and other governmental agencies. It eventually led to a UN resolution defining human rights violations and making the sanctuary movement a more legal and legitimate movement.

The need for churches today is to again be challenged to respond by becoming more sanctuary aware and involved in providing safe havens. Instead of relying on civil disobedience, John urged us to consider civil initiatives as it is a legal right of society to protect the victims of human rights violations by the government.

Diane Haines: Nogales Blog, October 6, 2016—Day 1    

ShuraShura, one of the Samaritans who lives in the Arizona desert near paths trodden by migrants from Mexico and Central America, shared artifacts with us that she has gathered over the years from migrants who had left them behind. She shared stories that may be attached to those hopeful migrants as she talked about the artifacts. What follows are my thoughts on those stories.

And the Desert Cries Out: Remember Me

My backpack! My coyote tells me there is no
room in the van for this.
But, my treasures are there: pictures of my
family, my water bottle, my change of clothes. I
am only 8. I need pictures of my family. I miss
them.

My new pink outfit, my finger nail polish, my
makeup, my tooth brush, my razor, my high
heels, they were going to help me get a job. Must
I leave them behind?

But, my baby’s bottle, my water bottle, photos of
my family back home, must I leave them?

This beautiful cloth which Mommy embroidered
and gave me to carry my tortillas and to
remember her when I am lonely, must I really

leave it behind? It is so small. I can put it in my
pocket.

They coyote says, get in the van quickly. Leave
them. There is no room.

And we are stacked upon each other in the van…
I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe.

Ed and Kathy took us on the Samaritan path where over the years migrants have walked in hopes of finding the promised land…a land free from terror and violence, a land where there will be enough to eat.

And the Desert Cries Out: Remember Me, too.

Just a little further up, I can make it to the top of this hill. 
A deep breath, I am nearly there. 
The brambles tear into my clothes.
The jumping cactus attack and cling to my pants.
The path is less hilly now, just sand and rocks and shrubs.
It is dry today, no rain, just the hot sun.
Days of walking, are we nearly there? My water is nearly gone.

The coyote keeps us safe from the border patrol.
But, I am tired. My shoes have holes. My feet hurt.
Thirst, parched, I drink from my water bottle.
I try not to complain.

It is nearly night now. The sunset is beautiful.
Where can we sleep? So many brambles, stickers,
and rocks on the path that I am unable to see. I stumble.
Another snake, they come out at dusk.
Where shall we sleep?

Bones, there are bones here. 
These are human bones.

Will my bones be on the path as well?
And see over here. A cross, someone put a cross here.
More bones buried here. Will my bones lay to rest here
on the desert as well?

CrossOur US policies have led to people from Mexico and Central America fleeing the violence and economic deprivation in their home countries. These policies conflict with what Christ has taught us about welcoming the immigrant.

3 replies
  1. Mirjam
    Mirjam says:

    So proud of all of you for making this important trip! Thank you for standing up for justice on immigration issues. Be safe, Mirjam

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