4 things I learned on the border

Last week, we had meetings with MCC in the border towns of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona. They tell me that before, it was a single town. But now the two are separated by a wall that measures 3 meters high and extends for about 8 kilometers. We had a profound experience as we talked with people who live the daily reality of the pain of separation between the American and Mexican people. Here I share 4 things I learned from my experience.

1. The desert is an extremely hostile environment.

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Cow fencing replaces the big tall wall about 4km out of town.

We arrived at 4 in the afternoon, when the sun was beginning to set. It was terribly cold with powerful winds. We did not want to spend more than 5 minutes outside the van. Migrants who cross spend more than a week in the desert. I had read a lot about that, and I have seen a lot of documentaries as well, but it does not compare with the experience of being physically present where all this happens. And now, for many people, this is the last step in a very long trip that begins in Africa, or in the Middle East, or in Haiti. Many arrive in South America and travel a few months before arriving to this part. There is no room in my mind for the desperation that brings people to this point in their life.

2. We have to pray for the patrols along with the migrants

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On the Mexican side of the wall, there are several murals depicting the experience of separation.

That was the plea of one of the patrols who spoke with us. He is a character that I will never forget. He lives in the tension of many contradictions. For example, his wife is Mexican and his church has a ministry for migrants. On the other hand, he voted for Trump. And his vocation for 17 years has been to capture migrants escaping through the desert and to return them to their land. He pointed out that the patrols are traumatized by what they see in the desert. And that although he is determined to offer the migrants he finds empathy and dignity, many of his traumatized colleagues become very hard and are violent with migrants. He also described that in order to cope with the trauma, many of his colleagues struggle with addictions. I have lately been praying for each exchange between migrants and patrols in one night. These moments are very vulnerable and need a lot of spiritual support.

3. The movement of people is a force of nature, like the rain and the wind. You will never stop it.

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The guide who led us along the wall showed us some scars that the wall bears as a result of cutting open and patching back up. In fact, one patch includes large screws which left posts sticking out on the Mexican side, almost creating steps to facilitate jumping over. Also, in the town of Agua Prieta, there is a factory that makes seatbelts. On the wall you can see these belts hanging down that people use for climbing.

4. My family is one among thousands whose hearts build a bridge between the two countries, no matter what happens in the political sphere or what is physically built between the two places.

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A heart with wings transcending the barrier is a strong image I took with me.

This was perhaps the most painful reality for me. When I stood on the wall on the American side, I thought about the love I have for my country. For the playground songs I learned in my childhood. And I looked towards the Mexican side, where my daughters learn children’s songs, where Ramona learned to read first in Spanish. This bond is so strong that the physical presence of a barrier between these deeply loved places caused me a strong pain in my gut. But in my prayers, I am weaving / imagining, asking God to weave a great and powerful network of love between the two countries that no thing or person can break.

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