Monday, November 16, 2015

Part 2: The Mexican Ants

I made a friend named Roberto last week. He is in his early 40’s and has a wife and two daughters. He is a hard worker and you can tell by the sun spots on his face that he spends a significant amount of time outside. Roberto is used to a long commute. In fact it’s so long that he usually just stays in the same place he works. He rarely goes home to see his family even though he misses them. He is also very good with his money and puts almost every penny into savings for his family. I think Roberto is the bravest man I have ever met. Forget Captain America and Superman.

Roberto is a native of Mexico. He has lived in the U.S. in various states for quite a while. His commute to work from his family’s home requires a month of travel up through Mexico, and then at least a 3 night trek through the desert in the U.S. He has made this trip several times, with the last being 5 years ago when he came to California. Roberto could not support his family in Mexico with the very small wages offered by either farms or factories. His wife and children live with his mother and he sends home every penny he can to keep them alive. Even with his recent deportation from America, he is working to cross the border again. There is no other option. He told me he has done this so many times but he still gets scared.
That's me in the pink about to jump over a small canyon.
It was easy in the day light.
The large, spiky bushes make it nearly impossible to walk.

When you’re in the desert getting ready to jump the wall into the U.S., there are many things you don’t expect. Yes, there are snakes, little food and water, and border patrol agents every few miles, but there are also thorny plants that catch your clothes (and there’s no avoiding them), small canyons where rain water has carved 7 foot ditches that you can’t see in the dark, the wall itself is difficult to climb and even more difficult to jump down from on the other side, and Roberto even said it started snowing on him one time. The question to ask here is why would anyone do this if they didn’t have to?

Can you see their fingerprints from just a few hours ago?

Watch your step!

The last annual immigrant visa waiting list report issued by the U.S. Department of State was on November 1, 2014. This report breaks down the number of visa issuances in both the family and employment categories, with the total number of visas on the waiting list from Mexico coming to 1,323,978. The report also says that for the fiscal year of 2015 there is a limit of 25,900 visas that can be accepted, meaning a very small fraction of the people who have passed the test to enter our country will actually be allowed to this year. 

With numbers like these, the waiting list keeps getting more and more backed up. According to an article on the Center for Immigration Studies website from April of this year, most citizens from Mexico are waiting OVER 18 YEARS for their turn to come up on the U.S. entry list. And this time frame doesn’t even account for the years they spend saving up money to apply, or the time taken by the government to adjudicate each application! 

Roberto was living in extreme poverty, and many like him have very ill family members as well. They do not have 18 years to wait for a visa, so the risks of death and imprisonment they take to cross the desert and make it to slightly better employment is worth it to them.

These people are not criminals when they come to our country, they are victims.

While poverty runs rampant in the central part of Mexico, the borderlands are ruled by the Mexican drug cartel. If you want to jump the fence, you have to go through them. Roberto said he paid several thousand dollars to a Coyote leader in order to cross the first time. Coyotes are usually very mean men involved with the cartel who lead groups of migrants to a drop off point across the border in America. They usually have two separate missions: lead the migrants, and more importantly smuggle the drugs. According to a few border patrol agents we were able to speak with, drug smugglers often use the innocent families as bait for the agents to arrest while the leaders sprint away with backpacks of cocaine or marijuana. They also entice youth from both sides of the border to carry drugs for them, offering $2500 just to carry two backpacks over the fence. And because Douglas, AZ is not exactly Beverly Hills, even the high school students from the American side can be convinced to risk their lives for a sum of money to help their families.
Red dots indicate migrant deaths in the desert. 1,755 are shown.
That is only a fraction of the true number. 

Crosses set out to remember those who
lost their lives in the desert.

If the cartel can’t get a load of drugs across however, they just sell it on their own side of the wall, leading to a huge cocaine and heroin addiction problem all along the border of Mexico. One stop on our journey was to learn more about CRREDA; a residential drug treatment center for anyone and everyone who comes to their door.  I highly suggest clicking on this link to read a letter from Mark Adams, one of the leaders of our group, to learn more about the wonderful work CRREDA does and how the Presbyterian Church is able to partner with them. 

Border patrol agents will be quick to tell you how the cartel has made things so dangerous for the Mexicans and for the agents. But our site coordinator Matthew brought up a good point that has led me to many more questions.

Matthew said that people only misbehave when they have a need that isn’t being met.

If children misbehave when they need more love and attention, what do the people crossing the border illegally actually need? What are the members of the drug cartel crying out for that we refuse to hear? How many of these teenagers and young adults are only carrying drugs because a family member is under gun point? Why are they the ones suffering in our prisons if they are the victims? Where does the cycle begin?! Why can’t our governments communicate with one another?!
America is their emergency exit.
I will continue to stew on these questions and many others as I head back to my life in L.A. I hope you take them with you as well, and if you come up with anything good let me know! This is not a hopeless situation. Hope was found in many places over the week with Frontera de Cristo, CRREDA, Café Justo, Borderlinks, and my fellow YAVs who care so much. If you feel inspired, write a letter to your representatives in Congress and tell them we need to talk about these people who are dying to come live with us. Also, keep paying attention to those pesky political debates and see who knows the real truth about the issues facing our neighbors.

Many Americans view Latinos crossing into our country as tiny ants through a magnifying glass. They want to play the vicious game of smiting them with beams of light through the lens just for fun. But I believe that is not what we should be doing with our magnifying glasses. Let us turn the lens around and magnify the struggles of our neighbors to the whole world so that we all might have compassion and mercy.

Ephesians 2:11-22
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Cafe Justo
We drank A LOT of good coffee!

Food and fellowship is all you need!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your insight, Marji. I appreciate your thoughts on such a tough situation. I look forward to reading more blog posts! Rowena's mom :-)