Monthly Archives: April 2017

Living at Ground Zero

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Ground Zero. “The front lines.” The “beachhead.”

This is how U.S. Attorney General Sessions described El Paso on his recent visit. Apparently, I’m living in the middle of a war zone.

“This is where we are making our stand,” Sessions added.

A stand in the battle to stop the drug cartels and gangs from coming into our country. Even though, in reality, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S.  If Sessions is looking for gangs, he might want to search a little deeper in his territory up in Washington.

He’s also taking a strong stand against those who are trying to enter the country illegally. Sessions’ message for migrants and refugees was, “…you should do what over 1 million other immigrants do each year, wait your turn and come lawfully.”

That statement said it all to me. Either he is vastly misinformed, or he just doesn’t care that what he is saying is not possible.

Wait your turn and come lawfully?

First, no one who is fleeing for their lives or those of their children can “wait their turn.” Secondly, most people needing to migrate are not able to obtain “legal” entry, no matter how much paperwork they complete, how many hoops they jump through, and how long they are willing to wait.

Translated, I take his message to mean nobody’s going to be allowed in, we’re at war with immigrants, and El Paso is the beach of Normandy.

God help us.

Will all this hardline rhetoric and militaristic nationalism coming out of Washington protect us? Not likely.

But what it will do – and already has done – is put people at further risk. Further jeopardize people whose lives are in danger. Put us at war with other countries, whether figuratively or literally. And put us at war with each other. The latter is already happening on Twitter and other forms of social media, on college campuses, and on the streets among protesters.

Frankly, I’m tired of all the negative rhetoric. The divisive words. The messages of hate and separation. Especially when they’re applied to the border, to Mexicans, and to immigrants.

So, I’m turning the rhetoric around and recognizing El Paso for what it is.

Ground Zero for compassion. For hope.

Because the people of El Paso are some of the kindest, most generous, most compassionate, faith-filled people I know. Whether they are here “with papers” or not.

Imagine that. Compassion and hope.

Right here at the beachhead.

At Ground Zero I’ve learned a lot about what it means to serve others. To live my faith and follow the corporal works of mercy. If you’re not familiar with them, in Catholic teaching the corporal works of mercy are seven ways we can extend God’s compassion and mercy on earth – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned, visit the sick, and bury the dead.

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The volunteers I work with in El Paso do this in innumerable ways.

 

Every day. Right here. From Ground Zero.

Imagine that.

 “Each time someone stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others…he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”  Robert Kennedy

I want to send forth this ripple. Live as a light of compassion. Rather than a voice of animosity and fear.

Imagine what that would be like. Imagine the possibilities.

“Hope looks at all things the way a mother looks at her child, with a passion for the possible.”     Br. David Steindl-Rast

Imagine.

This YouTube video of Pentatonix is a good place to start. You might call it ground zero.

 

 

 

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The Feds Are Coming, the Feds Are Coming

El Paso downtown

We’re expecting some pretty important visitors to our little border community tomorrow. Not just one big wig from the administration in Washington, D.C., but two – U.S. Attorney General Sessions and Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Kelly.

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Apparently, they’re making the rounds, having visited Nogales, Arizona, just the other day.

But I don’t think any of us is exactly sure why they’re coming. I doubt they’re coming to breathe our arid air and tour the 15-18 ft. high border fence we already have erected along our border.

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My hope is that they actually want to learn something about the communities impacted by their immigration and border defense decisions. That they want to ask us questions and gather information about what life is really like for people living so close to Mexico before they go any farther with their costly deportation and border wall plans.

One can hope, can’t she?

But, if they’re simply coming with their own agenda, to put in place whatever they already have in mind, then God help us.

History has shown us what happens when those who govern make detrimental decisions for those from whom they are far removed, both physically and emotionally. Remember your American history and the cry “taxation without representation”? Remember what happened when the British tried to rule people in a faraway land without understanding their concerns or being willing to treat them fairly?

Now, I’m not threatening a revolution or anything. I’m just saying…

Boston tea party

Pay attention to history!

El Pasoans don’t seem to be too happy about this visit. Although we are trying to hope for the best.

In today’s El Paso Times – our daily newspaper – the editor had this to say about Sessions and Kelly’s visit:

“While they are here, they will see a border region that bears little resemblance to the rhetoric that comes from the administration they serve….

“…not the out-of-control border portrayed in certain political and media circles.

“Sessions and Kelly will see a community doing robust trade with Mexico. More than $21 billion in exports flowed from El Paso to Mexico in 2015, making us the largest exporter to Mexico among U.S. metropolitan areas. That export flow creates jobs not just in El Paso, but across the nation… (from http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/04/19/el-paso-much-show-sessions-kelly-editorial/100668718/)

As for our representatives, both Democrats and Republicans are hopeful too.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, said he wants Kelly and Sessions “to understand that the safety of our community has been undermined with…calls for ‘military style’ immigration roundups and with the atmosphere of intimidation and fear promoted by this administration.”

Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents the eastern portion of El Paso County, is, “hopeful that they will listen to the law enforcement agents on the ground and realize that a wall from sea to shining sea will be the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border….you can’t have a one size fits all solution to the border.

“We can secure the border and continue to facilitate the movement of goods and services at the same time. These are not two cities separated by an international boundary. It’s one community separated by a border.”

Some locals are taking a little more aggressive stance.

Like the recently-formed Borderland Immigration Council and Border Network for Human Rights, a long-standing human rights group. They’ll be holding a picket line and press conference tomorrow to protest “the continued rhetoric demonizing border communities and Trump administration actions to criminalize migrants and militarize the border.”

They’ll present actual cases of people who have legally sought asylum protections here and have been incarcerated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even though they pose no danger to our community.

I’ll join them at the Federal Courthouse.

And I may not be throwing any tea overboard (a little hard to do in the desert 😊). But I will find a way – like many other like-minded Americans – to use my freedoms and my voice.

Where’s Paul Revere when you need him?paul-revere-by-wyeth

We Are All Grieving

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View from my apartment looking out across Mexico

We are grieving our loss. My fellow volunteers and I – the women and men who worked alongside me at the Nazareth hospitality center.

We know we’ve lost something special.

Several weeks ago, our center for migrants and refugees closed. We were told it was due to staff transitions in the main health center that owns the wing we were using. We thought it was temporary. So far, it hasn’t reopened.

But even before the center closed, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had been bringing us fewer and fewer refugees. In mid-January, our daily numbers began dropping to single digits.

The interesting thing is, all of this happened soon after I’d closed on my house, packed up all my belongings and moved here – lock, stock, and barrel. Suddenly, what I loved doing most and fed me spiritually had disappeared.

You gotta wonder what the Universe has planned.

Still, I know without a doubt this is where I am meant to be. Living close to the border. Living, as I call it, “close to the bone.”

I’m not questioning my heart’s guidance.

But I am grieving. And I’m not the only one.

I realized this last week when I unexpectedly ran into several of my fellow volunteers at a Taize service.

Volunteers like Martha. Every Tuesday, she and her friend Cuki would come to Nazareth to prepare breakfast and lunch for our “guests.” When our daily numbers jumped to well over 100, they enlisted other friends to help.  They spent their entire day there, every Tuesday.

And they’ve been doing this for nearly three years.

Martha and I were so happy to see each other that night. With moist eyes, we shared how much we missed Nazareth and “the people.”grief-loss-therapy

Without really having words to express why, we both knew the fullness of this experience had touched our lives.

Other volunteers joined our conversation. And that’s when I realized, we all were grieving.

Grieving because we missed interacting with the people who had clearly given us a gift by their presence.

Grieving because we know the tragic and violent situations that existed in these people’s lives – the reasons they fled their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – have not changed. They’re still subjected to death threats, extortion, and gang violence. But where are they are fleeing to, we wondered?

Grieving because we know that human rights abuses are increasing – at detention facilities, at ports of entry, and elsewhere. And we don’t expect it to get better soon.

Some Customs and Border Patrol agents are turning away asylum seekers without consideration of their claims. Cases have been documented of people with credible fear being turned away at the border, like the mother who fled Guatemala after gang members killed her two sons and threatened her life. Turned away, even though those who are fleeing violence have a legal right to seek asylum in the U.S.

Or, in some cases, ICE is locking up asylum seekers. Sticking them in detention for the duration of their case, even though they pose no threat to our society. Even though they have passed their “credible fear” interview. Causing them more pain, more harm, more trauma to their children.

Here’s a recent example. Martín Méndez Pineda, a 25-year-old journalist from Acapulco, Guerrero, was detained and denied parole after seeking asylum here in El Paso. Pineda had received death threats and police beatings for his critical reports of the Mexican federal police. Only a week earlier, a female journalist had been murdered in Mexico.  Rather than assist this young man, we threw him in detention like a criminal.

Yes, we are definitely grieving over the direction our country is taking towards migrants and refugees.

Because for us, this is not just a controversial issue on the 6 o’clock news.

We have come to know “the people.” We have listened to their stories. We have accompanied them and been transformed by the encounter.

And we know they are human beings. Worthy of being treated with dignity and compassion.

El Paso Columban Missions

Please, no matter where you stand on the issue of immigration and refugees, let’s remember that these are human beings. That human rights abuses should not be part of our protocol.

And it is absolutely inhumane to separate mothers from their children as a deterrent to immigration.

All that we will accomplish by such inhumane treatment is more grief. And the loss will be much more extensive and personal than we can anticipate.

For more practical and humane suggestions for curbing the flow of illegal immigration, listen to award-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario’s TED talk at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/sonia+navarro+ted/15ada9caf1939193?projector=1