photo credit: Freddy Rosas
Jeff Munroe is away today. His daughter Amanda, Social Justice Curriculum and Pedagogy Coordinator at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching, and Service; is filling in. Amanda recently participated in an experience in both Washington, DC and on the US-Mexico border looking at immigration issues.
“Let me ask you this,” the Border Patrol Agent’s voice boomed: “Do you have a fence in your backyard?”
“No,” I shot back.
“Well, do you have a door to your house?”
“If you were at home, and some guy walked into your yard, and then through your back door, and into your house, what would you do?”
I hesitated — I felt trapped by the question. I was leading a group of students, and how I responded mattered. The agent was simplifying in order to make his point, but is immigration as simple as he was making it? Did his question capture all the complexities of sovereignty, human rights, race, politics and freedom surrounding migration and border issues?
The group facing him, 10 university students and three of my colleagues in student advising, represented seven countries of citizenship and eight of birth. We were taking part in a trip to the US-Mexico border called BAE, the Border Awareness Experience, learning through immersion, accompaniment, and inquiry about the state of migration in the United States.
Our daily debrief that evening was tense. We were halfway through the trip. The first few days had been like weaving, as we identified and looped together one sticky string and then another in an overwhelmingly intricate web of laws, policies and protocols regulating U.S. border security and migration.
Having witnessed migration court hearings, shared meals with asylum seekers, and read statistical reports, that evening the system felt more akin to quicksand than to a web: inescapable and bottomless. I listened and empathized as we sought a culprit, the guilty party behind the inefficiencies that stymied the system and the injustice and injuries it perpetuates.
A part of me had walked into the lecture with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) hoping to meet a villain of cinematic grandeur. Surely they were the problem, and if not the masterminds, then at least an easily identifiable enemy. Yet, as was made clear in this lecture, CBP have enormously complicated jobs and perhaps the most intimate face-to-face contact with people trying to make it onto US soil. They are regularly the first responders to encounter people who have just made the most physically and mentally harrowing journeys of their lives.
As we grasped the near-impossibility of the multiplicity of CBP roles and their human-not-villain status, we realized there is no one party at which it is possible to direct blame in the migration drama. The puzzling implication that follows is that everyone deserves blame.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
Each one of us is complicit and each one of us is part villain. We are implicated by our involvement in systems: economic systems, through the production and purchasing of goods and services; political systems, through our citizenships and choice of representation; and cultural systems, through our customs, language, and enactment of values.
We are implicated by the direction of our attention. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the need for action is screaming, “look upon me!” While a human crisis takes place, our political leaders have forestalled action for fear of political fallout in the upcoming midterm elections.
But you and I can be more courageous than our political leaders. We can start by raising our own understanding and awareness of the issues; praying; voicing our questions and opinions within our families, local communities, and churches; contacting our congressional representatives; voting; volunteering; making monetary donations; and more.
Migration and border issues are complex, but maybe the Border Patrol agent’s question is worth asking. Instead of thinking of those who cross our borders as predators, reframe the question along Jesus’ lines: who is your neighbor? If a child walked into your yard and through your back door, what would you do?