“We hope your daughter’s funeral will be cheaper than paying us.”
It’s been so hard. I’ve sat down time and again to write a new post. I couldn’t do it. Months have passed.
The above words are from a note a Guatemalan family received when they could no longer pay the gang’s extortion money. They brought the note with them, along with other evidence, for their asylum case. The Border agent didn’t care.
Now they fearfully wait in Mexico. While our hospitality center remains nearly empty.
Larry, a fellow shelter volunteer, sheds tears easily over the people. Me, not so much.
But now I’m the one crying as I write this. These days I cannot even bring myself to think about writing a post without feeling emotional.
I wonder, will it matter to anyone? Who will even read this? And will these words touch someone’s heart?
These are the questions I carry as I feel disgusted by what is happening at our southern border.
I don’t go to the shelter anymore. Haven’t for months. Friends like Larry who do go tell me they are receiving maybe a dozen asylum seekers. Sometimes fewer.
One day they received none. Zero.
I think of these people. Still. Especially the Guatemalans, Hondurans, and El Salvadorans. The ones with whom I interacted regularly. The ones who faced so much hardship to get here. Because they are still suffering.
Even though we don’t see them, we know.
They’re still fleeing the violence in their countries – countries that we have forced to sign agreements to be so-called “safe third countries.” The idea of them being safe havens is preposterous.
But the climate in which we’re living is one of preposterous claims.
It’s a climate in which words have lost their true meaning. Where truth hides deep in the recesses of a person’s – like maybe a politician’s – soul. Where it’s hidden by the fear of losing power or financial gain, or some privilege that we imagine others don’t deserve.
I recently took a daylong retreat based on Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited.
I was struck by his faith that “the effects of truthfulness could be realized in the oppressor as well as the oppressed.”
I tell God I am waiting for that to happen. For truth to be realized.
And I hear, “I am waiting for you to be that voice of truthfulness.”
So here I am, trying again.
Trying to write about the truth. The truth that asylum seekers are still arriving. And being forced to sign papers that will either deport them or send them to wait in Mexico. And if they refuse to sign, a Border agent will illegally sign for them.
The truth that asylum seekers with legitimate cases have almost no chance of winning their case if they’re in Mexico. Yet if they go home, they have slim chances of surviving.
These are their choices.
At the border in Arizona, migrants sent into Nogales, Mexico, are told they will have to travel to El Paso for their court date. People with no money will somehow have to get bus fare for themselves and their children, travel through dangerous Juarez to enter at the port of entry in El Paso for their initial hearing, and then return to Nogales to wait.
It does not matter how ridiculous, impossible, or life-threatening this is. ICE does not care. Our government does not care.
It’s true, as Thurman said, that the lives of the disinherited do not matter to the powerful.
Why else would we be spending billions on building a steel structure that will cause such irreparable harm – environmentally and socially – rather than on supporting programs and policies for mutually beneficial and humanitarian changes?
I turn to the retreat’s reflection questions. I can’t get past this one:
“What do you believe is God’s prayer for the disinherited: for racial, ethnic, social, and religious groups, refugees, immigrants, and people who still live with their backs against the wall?”
This is when the tears come. I know the answer. I am God’s prayer for the disinherited. And so are people like me.
And the truthfulness I am asked to share comes through the voices of vulnerable people. So, I share these testimonies collected by the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales from the migrants they served: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/testimonies-from-mpp/
“We left Guatemala because the gangs were targeting my daughter. She is only 11….They followed her everywhere. When this happens, the girls become the property of the gangs, they are raped and disappeared. I had the proof that her life was in danger when I got to the border. I showed it to the agent but he didn’t care. He said I either had to return to Mexico and wait there or return to Guatemala. I said I didn’t want to do either. He said I had to, and that if I didn’t sign the papers, he would sign them for me and no one would know it wasn’t me. I never did sign any papers but here I am. He signed my name for me.”
“I told the [Border] official I didn’t know what to do when I got back to Mexico. He said, ‘you can ask your God if he will let you into the U.S.’”
“We’re not safe in Mexico. We didn’t want to come here. But to return to Guatemala would have meant the death of my husband and daughter.”
If my life is to be a prayer, as I believe it is meant to be, then certainly my voice must be a voice for the disinherited.