A few Saturdays ago I stood on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game. Her team played on the middle field of the park, other games going on simultaneously on either side of us. Right before half time I noticed all of the girls in the game behind me were on a knee, indicating an injured player was down. I could see a girl stretched out on the grass, a few adults hovered over the top half of her body while her legs turned side to side. She was obviously in pain. A few minutes later the referee had his cell phone out, and within a minute we could hear the sirens in the distance. The fire truck and then the ambulance arrived.
My daughter’s game kept going as if nothing was happening. Two very different stories playing out next to each other. Some of the spectators on our sidelines looked back and forth between our girls’ game and the crisis unfolding behind us. Others faced straight ahead, business as usual, cheering on our girls. Perhaps knowing there was nothing they could do to change what was unfolding, they appeared to pay no attention to our neighboring field’s crisis.
I couldn’t help but think of my trip to the border. It was as if I’d been facing forward for months, years really, and I was finally noticing the crisis playing out right next to me. I could no longer just be concerned with “my girls” and “my game”. A separate world of immigration law, border issues, and family separation have been unfolding in tragic ways. I’ve had the luxury of living a life that needs not pay attention to it. But going on this trip last month I turned to face and to learn. Now I can no longer ignore what I am seeing and hearing. I can no longer operate under business as usual.
The trip was to McAllen, TX, the center of immigration news this summer. My group was a hodgepodge of writers, learners, and immigration experts. We were self-identified Christian, pro-family women who knew the separation of families was outside of our understanding of what was just. The coordinators of the trip provided us with great opportunities and expertise as we tried to make sense of what we saw and heard.
In two days we visited the Ursula Processing Center where parents and children were separated this summer, an ICE Detention Center where adults are transferred and held as they wait for deportation proceedings, and a Catholic Charities respite center for migrants once they are released from one of those two facilities and are trying to get to family or friends in other parts of the U.S. We met with Border Patrol agents, ICE Detention Center staff, the current and former mayors of McAllen, and Sister Norma Pimentel who started the relief center and has received international recognition for her work with immigrants including being coined “Pope Francis’ favorite nun in the U.S.” I am truly grateful for the number of people who took time out of their routines and work to give us their insights into the current situation at the border. Each voice gave us a different perspective. I also met with migrants whose stories aren’t policies or statistics, but their very real experiences that are being played out right now. Real loss. Real pain. Real grief.
I will get into specifics in future posts. But here are my biggest areas of learning:
Families are fleeing violence. The people we met were from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Parts of these countries and Southern Mexico are so unsafe from gang-related violence, that families are willing to leave every part of familiar to look for safety. People request asylum (here and in other Central American countries) because they are afraid for their lives. They are scared and desperate. They are crossing along the East Texas border because that is the section of border closest to Central America.
The people trained to capture the “bad guys” are also responding to a humanitarian crisis. No question we need a secure border. There are drug cartels transporting in huge amounts of drugs into our country because we have a drug consumption crisis going on. Border Patrol agents are trained to capture criminals and the systems we have in place to detain everyone crossing the border are designed with criminals in mind. These are the same systems those seeking asylum are placed in. Though the reasons for attempted entry are quite different, we have a single system for The response does not match the need.
Families are no longer being separated…kind of. More specifically children are no longer being separated from their parents that we know of. However, if a child attempts to cross the border with an adult, often a lifelong caregiver like a grandparent or older sibling, and that adult does not have documentation to show they are the legal guardian, the child and adult are separated. They then fall in the category of “unaccompanied minor” (though they were actually accompanied). Since 2014 children and teenagers have been traveling on their own from Central America to flee violence. They are true “unaccompanied minors”. This group stole my heart.
The church steps in where the government can’t (or won’t). Though politics can change laws, or reinterpret them, to meet an agenda or please a voting block, God’s call for us to welcome the stranger and care for the immigrant does not change. The people at Catholic Charities are the hands and feet of mercy on the border. They are working with Border Patrol and making a way to meet very real needs while restoring dignity where they can. There is nothing keeping us from stepping up and loving the immigrants in our own communities. At least nothing we can’t step over. God’s call is the same, whether we live on the border, or in the heartland. This is where I found a sliver of hope. We have an opportunity here church to live into what God has called us to.
I promised a chance to talk about this in real time. Tomorrow Welcome will be hosting a Facebook Live with Jen Podkul, Director of Policy for KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Jen was one of our experts on the trip and I will be interviewing her at 11:00a.m. ET. You are welcome to join us live and ask questions about the topics abover or tune in later to listen in on our conversation. Follow this link to watch live. I am hardly done with learning. This is just the beginning for me. Would join me in this journey of turning away from business as usual? I’d be honored if you did.