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I’m sitting across from another crying wife. Yesterday, her seat was filled by a pregnant woman sitting next to her husband and four year-old son. Before her sat a man trying to earn money to send his son to college because he only attended elementary school and understands how important an education will be to his son’s future.
What do they have in common? They’ve all trodden, illegally, into the United States.
But when undocumented immigrants from Mexico are sent back, nobody accompanies them to their front doors. In many cases, U.S. officials bring them as far as the border and watch as they cross back over into a city, state and situation that may be entirely unfamiliar.
A Dangerous Road
Here on the border, I’ve met men, women, and even children who spent days crossing the desert into the U.S., who are shaken from being arrested and spending time in U.S. detention centers, and who’ve been “returned” to an unfamiliar place—exhausted—with just the clothes on their backs.
Others are being returned after spending years or decades living, working and raising families in the United States. Mexico is no longer “home” at all.
I’m learning that border towns can be dangerous places for these travelers. Migrants who intend to return to Mexico may be forced to cross again by smugglers, because smugglers are typically paid once people make it to the U.S. Migrants are also easy targets for kidnappers who can call and extort money from the migrants’ families—even if they just get a hold of the phone number, they may call and lie to the family, saying they have the migrant hostage.
Watching them cross into Mexico carrying their plastic bags from Homeland Security, dragging tired, blistered feet, I can’t help but think about Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan and how he treated the wounded traveler.
What if instead of, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” Jesus started with, “A man was going down from Tucson to Mexico City.”
And they are—by the thousands. Thousands of recently deported or returned travelers are dropped off in border cities daily, preparing for difficult journeys back “home” in Mexico or back out into the desert.
At least for those brought here, to Agua Prieta, a little bit of help waits just past the port of entry.
Just inside the gate, volunteers at the Migrant Resource Center (MRC) invite migrants to sit and eat and tell them where they are, where they can stay the night, how they can get home and warnings about the city. The guests at the center can call family members or contact the local Mexican consulate to find out about friends and family they were separated from during detainment.
The center not only meets some very practical needs, but it serves as a place for this bi-national community to embrace and care for the travelers. Many volunteers here are rising to the occasion—from both sides of the fence.
“The goal is to help the migrant—whatever they need,” says Betto, the Mexican coordinator of the Migrant Resource Center. Betto has worked five of the six years in the life of the MRC.
Betto’s U.S. counterpart, Phil (or “Felipe,” around here) feels equally as convicted about the community’s responsibility to care for migrants.
“To think that somebody could get repatriated without this support, to a city they’re not from and not necessarily where they crossed, it’s frightening!” says Phil. Migrants returned to Mexico have often been through incredibly trying desert passages or deportations, and many are stuck in complicated legal situations.
A Tough Conversation
“What’s really really hard for me is when somebody’s whole family is living in the U.S.,” laments Phil. “When they say to you, ‘Well, what are my options for getting a visa?’ You have to say, ‘I’m sorry, but you don’t have any options.’”
The volunteers at the MRC have this conversation far too often. Family reunification does not get you a visa to come to the U.S., waiting lists for work visas for a Mexican citizen can be decades long, and a deportation may actually prevent someone from even beginning that process for years.
Sometimes all a volunteer can do is meet the immediate needs of the traveler and wish them well, knowing full well they will try to make the dangerous desert passage again. This family of volunteers, made up of the community, local churches and Frontera de Cristo aim to serve the needs of those who walk through their door, despite the politics.
Defying Worldly Logic
Their actions may seem a little “radical,” but if a man limped through your front door, disheartened and far from home, what would you do?
I think there’s a reason that when the Good Samaritan saw the traveler on the side of the road, he didn’t begin with, “Are you hurt? Give me a sec to check your documentation and criminal record, please…just wanna be sure.”
The community of the Migrant Resource Center gets it. These people really take “now go and do likewise” to heart, and with the courage to go and do likewise despite borders, laws and public opinion. When our sense of right and wrong is anchored in legislation alone, we miss Jesus’ invitation to think, act and love in a transformational way that defies worldly logic.
A returning migrant to Agua Prieta may be rejected by the world, but they need only walk a few yards alone before someone greets them, transforming each one from an “alien” to a beloved neighbor.
- Learn more about the Migrant Resource Center from the Frontera de Cristo website. Also, like them on Facebook!
- Have you ever traveled to an unfamiliar place? Moved to a new city? Been lost? How were you treated by the people you encountered? How would you hope to be treated? Go and do likewise.
- Interested in helping care for “aliens” in your neighborhood? Do a little research, and find out where refugees and immigrants live in your city. You can be a valuable part of helping someone transition to life in the U.S. by doing simple things like walking someone through a grocery store, helping them register their kids for school, etc.
- Consider donating to the Migrant Resource Center. You can also make clothing, food and toiletry donations (mostly people in Arizona who are close by…). The center always needs help with resources to continue caring for our migrant brothers and sisters on the border.
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.