This is my second trip to the Border. The first was in August 2008 with a group of seminarians determined to learn all we could about the issues regarding immigration and to provide humanitarian aid to migrants trying to cross to desert. While we made a quick trip to Altar Mexico (to visit a staging area for migrants getting ready to cross and a center (C.A.M.E.) designed to assist those whose had been repatriated after making an attempt to cross), most of our time was spent walking the trails. The culmination of our time on the desert was our detainment for three hours by the U.S. Border Patrol who were convinced that we were aiding and abetting “illegals”. Needless to say, my encounter with BP agents was less than fun. It was demoralizing, infuriating and we could only begin to imagine what it must be like for those Migrants whose entire future is determined by whether or not they make it past the Patrols whose sole purpose is to send them back to the poverty and despair left behind in their native lands. I felt no empathy for these agents. Rather I felt hostility and a desire for them to leave the planet. They are the enemy after all…
The agenda for this trip clearly stated that we would be visiting the Tucson area Border Patrol headquarters. We would have the opportunity to tour the facility like tourists on holiday. It was an excursion to which I was not looking forward. In fact I had confessed to my roommates that I was hesitant to go, afraid that I would not be able to keep my mouth shut, ready to accuse all those agents of oppression and violence against the migrant. But God has a funny way of interjecting humility into our lives.
The night before the tour, our group met at the wall a few miles west of Agua Prieta to learn about the history of immigration. However, while trying to concentrate on what Mark, out host, was trying to tell us, a white van continued to drive back and forth looking for an opportunity to drop its human cargo near a recently “sliced” steal beam so that they could squeeze their bodies through the break. At the same time, four Border Patrol trucks were running parallel on the U.S. side, with agents armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weapons. While they examined the cut piece of fencing, we had the “privilege” of talking to some of the agents through the fence as they tracked the movements of the white coyote van. I took the opportunity to ask Vince, one of the agents, what the most difficult part of his job is. And much to my surprise, his eyes filled with tears and he said “the kids”.
After being reassured that I was not a reporter, he shared stories of the youngest victims of this insane policy, the children. As he described his experiences, (specifically of a four year old girl being left behind in a cemetery at night while her uncle made a run for it), he was visibly troubled and requested that we, the missionaries visiting, tell the migrants to leave the kids behind. We were informed y our host that this self disclosure was rare and more honest than what we could expect from our tour guide the next day.
I was floored by his honesty, his emotion, his humanity. It was the exact opposite of my experience of the Border Patrol during my first visit. And it threw me. Such a juxtaposition of experiences. And of course, just to make matters more confusing came the visit to the BP headquarters
We listened to a border patrol agent talk about her job, and it seemed as if she were on automatic pilot. She discussed how she loves tracking down “stuff” ( translate: people), and sending “aliens” back over the border only to play “cat and mouse” with them again the next day. She discussed catching “things” the way my son talks about shooting the enemy in his play station games. My desire to flip back to demonizing the Border Patrol was strong and I could feel myself returning to my previous opinion of disdain and disgust of these folk. But then God stepped in again, and our host shared another story of an agent who climbed down a ravine to hold a migrant woman with a compound fracture for hours until Search and Rescue could get to them. He, the agent, reported that during their time together, it was clear to him that he and this woman loved each other.
Hating and blaming a particular group is so much easier. Focusing on the horror stories and maltreatment of migrants by agents certainly allows me to get on my soapbox and feel superior in my actions and attitudes. But to what end?
The Border Patrol requires that and individual have a high school diploma or equivalent. Overtime is built into the schedule allowing a 5 year “veteran” to make over $75,000 a year (more money than most 25 year veterans of our educational system). This is a system which calls its targets, “aliens”, “things” and “stuff”, dehumanizing not only the migrant but those employed to catch them. It is a system which by definition de-humanizes al of us on either side of the border trying to make sense of the inane.
I have no answers. I am angry, demoralized, and desiring a simple enemy to blame. And then I remember: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
This is a very broken system affecting all of us: it is Both/and: migrant/agent; Pharisee/sinner; you/me…