John R. Leech (USA): Recently I have observed and participated in a variety of border and immigration ministries in southern Arizona and northern Mexico, from hospitality (el comedor, Kino Border Initiative, Sonora) to deportation proceedings (Special procedures court, ‘Operation Streamline’, Tucson federal courthouse), from keeping vigil at el Tiradito shrine, remembering those who have died crossing the desert, to training with Tucson Samaritans, and serving at the comedor with Samaritans of Sahuarita and Green Valley.
I have spoken with members of St Michael and All Angels and St Andrew’s Episcopal Churches in Tucson, and with volunteers of the Casa Mariposa/Restoration Project, who have been meeting people at the Greyhound bus station in Tucson, people recently released from detention by ICE/Border Patrol.
This autumn the big news had two parts. First, the Tucson bus station began receiving eighty people a night, women with children, released with instructions to appear for a hearing within a month at an immigration court – presumably near family already in the United States – lest an order for removal close their case. No warning. Just dropped off.
Second, the incredible news that the Border Patrol has flown a thousand kids from Texas to Arizona and then put them into a warehouse (I’ve seen it from the road – it is meant for pallets of flour, not for people) in Nogales, AZ. These are unaccompanied minors from Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras), refugees from violence and extreme poverty. The warehouse serves as a temporary (promise: 72 hours) detention facility. It is on La Quinta Road near the truck crossing into Mexico.
The ongoing need for change in policy and practice, compassionate work for change and a deeper understanding of our fellow human beings – exploited and caught in the middle of a gigantic and ongoing crisis – and the need to reach out in love across boundaries: all this continues.
One thing I have been thinking about lately is that this situation is similar to so many others in humanitarian relief and development work: there is an immediate crisis that gets our attention – and an ongoing problem that needs lasting sustained effort.
All of a sudden on our own southern border is an immense influx of refugees, in two remarkable groups, women with children seeking to be reunited with their families, and unaccompanied minors, mainly teenagers but also younger children, who have been sent north without adults.
Preponderantly these people have come north through Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Why? Besides a sell-job by human smugglers, there are economic and political reasons for this migration.
People come to Arizona to work, to re-unite with their families, or to find and begin a new chapter in their life.
We need to practice a theology of hospitality – a spirituality of migration. We were strangers once too. So – an ongoing need is there. The need for change – in our national policies, in our practices of welcome, in our influence on conditions in other countries, in our attitudes toward the ‘foreigner’ – continues.
(“Sparks of the Light”, Coracle, the quarterly magazine of the Iona Community, Winter 2014, 13-14)