I’m waiting in a COVID-friendly line at the Las Cruces post office shifting the weight of the last box of snacks and supplies I’ll be priority mailing to Davis in Nome. Standing on the taped floor marking 6 feet ahead of me is a woman with her own large priority mail box, which she now places on the floor.
“It’s so heavy,” she tells me.
I smile as I look down and see it’s going to El Paso. Thoughts of El Paso always make me smile. But then I notice the addressee and exclaim aloud, “Hey, I know Taylor Levy!”
The woman turns to me for an explanation.
We both know Taylor through Annunciation House. And we both also know her as a devoted immigration attorney, now in her own practice, and an amazing humanitarian who continues to cross over the border to help her clients stuck waiting in Mexico.
This woman, apparently a teacher, tells me she has lots of notebooks and paper, pens and pencils, and bilingual children’s books that she’s donating to the immigrant children. She’s hoping she can contact Taylor to let her know this is coming. I offer a suggestion.
“Good idea,” she says. Then, before turning back around, she adds, “small world.”
Meeting this woman cheers me. She’s turned waiting in a socially-distanced line trailing out the door into something uplifting and gratifying. Gratifying because she reminds me of the goodness and kindness of strangers. Countless people I’ve encountered, not only in this border community, but from all around the country, who donated supplies and came to volunteer with us at our hospitality shelters.
She does indeed remind me how small the world is. And how decent, kind, and caring it can be.
It’s quite a contrast to what I experienced the other night. As I watched the new Netflix documentary, “Immigration Nation,” it induced a different memory. A disturbing one of only two summers ago, when I was standing smack in the middle of something evil.
The separation of families.
And, yes, calling it evil is entirely accurate. And necessary.
Because, to be detached, or worse, take pleasure in causing the pain and suffering of others is evil.
Watching that documentary brought it all back. What we witnessed in the people we accompanied in El Paso. The belittling and cruelty they’d experienced at the hands of CBP. The ways El Paso has been used as a testing ground for our administration’s new and unlawful policies.
I watched and listened to ICE agents’ demeaning sarcasm, to their justification for using family separation as a deterrent. To the dads sobbing for their children. To the young girl who, after being taken from her father, was told by the agent she would “never see him again.” To the Honduran grandmother I recognized who had fled to save her granddaughter’s life and came the legal and “right way” by asking for asylum at the port of entry, only to be separated from her granddaughter and detained for 17 months in the El Paso Processing Center before put on a plane and deported without the ability to notify her attorney or her family.
But as disturbing as it is, I hope many Americans will watch “Immigration Nation” and understand. Keeping your emotions out of doing your job to uphold the law is one thing. Doing that job with demeaning humor and glee, or numbness, while inflicting emotional pain, and worse, on others is quite something else.
Family separation is not over. Unjust cruelty heaped on those who seek refuge is still happening. It’s simply out of the limelight now.
And we as a society pay a dear price for this behavior.
As one former Border Patrol agent expressed in a 2109 article in The American Scholar:
“Where do we draw the line between our right as Americans to protect ourselves and our duty as human beings to treat others as we would hope to be treated in similar circumstances?”
It’s an important question to ask.
And he adds: “…all too often our fear of the other is an act of self-defeat more than an act of self-preservation.” (https://theamericanscholar.org/rape-trees-and-rosary-beads/#.XzxdnOhKjIV)
We delude ourselves into thinking that causing pain to others has no negative impact in our lives. That we are somehow separated from our thoughts and actions.
This illusion looms large in our culture today. Dividing ourselves into red and blue states, one political party pitted against the other, liberals vs. conservatives, citizens vs. immigrants, us vs. them…has turned into permission to be rude or hateful, or worse.
Some believe this is acceptable. No skin off their back.
But it is, in fact, an act of self-defeat. Because, in reality, we are not separate beings living in isolation.
As Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical Laudato Si: “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”
We are all interconnected in this web of life. And the threads we contribute to this web reverberate, throughout our culture, throughout our world.
In this moment, with so much at stake, Love calls us to reach higher. To dare to contribute loving energetic threads.
I dare to imagine what is possible if we did. As of yet, this remains mysterious to most of us. And may seem impossible to many.
But I consciously choose to contribute loving thoughts and actions to this web of life. And to be aware whenever I am offering anything that goes against this intention.
Remembering that, as Dorothy Day said, “Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up….If we love each other enough, we are going to light the fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”
(For a review of the Netflix documentary “Immigration Nation” from the UK: https://inews.co.uk/culture/television/immigration-nation-netflix-documentary-donald-trump-ice-572147)