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Bishops on the Border: An Excerpt by Mark Adams

September 12, 2014

"Bishops on the Border"

Bishops on the Border is an ecumenical examination of immigration issues drawn from engaging, first-person narratives. A group of bishops (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Methodist), all based along the US-Mexico border, found common ground to jointly address some key immigration issues, especially those being played out in the state of Arizona.

The bishops worked together on behalf of local immigrant populations to address theological and pastoral concerns-and prayed for those whose lives were being directly affected.

This book grows out of their shared work and the relationships that developed among them.

 

Contributors

Kirk Stevan Smith (Editor) was elected Episcopal Bishop of Arizona in 2003 and lives in Phoenix. He has served parishes in Connecticut and California. With an undergraduate degree in history, Smith earned a PhD in medieval church history from Cornell University. He studied for holy orders at Berkeley Seminary at Yale before being ordained a priest in 1980 through the auspices of his home diocese of Arizona. He lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Mark Adams is a Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker with Frontera de Cristo (www.fronteradecristo.org), a Presbyterian Border Ministry centered in Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, AZ, where he has served since 1998.

Minerva G. Carcaño is the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the episcopacy of the United Methodist Church, currently serves in the California-Pacific Conference, and is the official spokesperson for the United Methodist Council of Bishops on the issue of immigration.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas was installed as Bishop of Tucson on March 7, 2003. He is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Bishop Stephen S. Talmage was elected and began serving as bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA in August 2006. His office is in Phoenix. 

 

INTRODUCTION by Mark Adams

The church of the U.S./Mexico borderlands has been in a unique position to witness to the growing division, fear, and death occurring on our shared border as well as in the inte­riors of our nations. It is in this context of tension and suf­fering that we are called to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ who "is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us" (Ephesians 2:14).

Being part of the church that crosses national, political, social, linguistic, and cultural borders has enabled us to expe­rience the suffering on both sides of the border-whether it is crying with family members in Mexico who have lost loved ones in the deserts or listening to the frustration of prop­erty owners in the United States who have lost a sense of physical and financial security because of persons crossing through their property; whether celebrating in worship with migrants who give witness to how God saved their lives again or praying with Border Patrol agents who sometimes fear for their safety; or grieving with families on both sides of the border as they struggle with the violence of an underground drug culture. Because we are in relationship with people on multiple sides of the "issues" and have become familiar with the realities and complexity of the situation, it has become impossible for us to scapegoat any group of people.

In fact, the border reality has given greater insight into what the Scripture means when it says "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). We seek to raise aware­ness that our struggle is not against individuals or any particular group of individuals, but rather against political, economic, and social systems that pit individuals against one another and promote division instead of unity, fear instead of hope, death instead of life. By pitting undocumented persons against ranchers or "coyotes" against Border Patrol agents, we understand that those with power benefit the most while the ones who currently suffer the most are the undocumented and the property owners.

As Christians we are called to work together across national boundaries and to address our common concerns as sisters and brothers equally created in the divine image. We are not adversaries. Furthermore, we are called to resist the temptation to demonize or dehumanize any individual or group of individuals. By building relationships and under­standing across borders, those most affected by the current policies can unite to struggle for change that is beneficial to people on both sides of the border.

Bishops on the Border provides a wonderful source of biblical and theological reflection on the practice of the Christian faith from four different expressions of the body of Christ working and living within the sociopolitical and economic realities of the early twenty-first-century U.S./Mexico borderlands. The bishops challenge not only their own communions, but all of us who call upon the name of Christ to respond in faith rather than fear to the complexity of migration. As we respond to the challenges of today, we are called to remember both our bib­lical history and our corporate history. My colleague Tommy Bassett has a phrase that he attaches to his e-mails: "Are we there yet? Are you kidding? WE ARE NOMADS!" As people of faith, we are reminded that we are pilgrims and sojourners on this earth and our faith story is filled with people on the move. Migration is as old as Adam and Eve. Our ancestors migrated from their homelands for as many reasons as people today migrate: from political and economic necessities to reli­gious and family concerns. The story of our foremothers and forefathers in the faith is part of the larger reality of migration in the context of human history, but there was no such thing as immigration until the development, rather late in human history, of sociopolitical borders and the division of God's creation into nation states. With the development of national borders, the migration of peoples entailed not just internal migration borders, but also the reality of emigration from, and immigration to, other countries. While we often focus on the reality of the migration of peoples, it is also important for us to remember that not only do people migrate, but borders and policies also migrate.

The Migration of Borders

There is a fence between Douglas, Arizona, and its twin city of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, where I live and have been in ministry since 1998-one year after this fence was built.

Imagine that you are standing with your back against the south side of that fence, looking toward the southern border of Mexico and Guatemala. Where would you be standing? Now, it is the United States, because the fence is built a little more than a foot north of the international boundary marker that divides the United States from Mexico. With your back up against the fence, you would be 100 percent in the United States-unless you have very long feet or a very large belly.

1 Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3); Noah and his family were displaced because of the flood (Genesis 6); Abram and Sarai left their country to follow the call of God (Genesis 12); Joseph was sold into slavery and forcibly taken to Egypt (Genesis 37); Joseph's brothers go to Egypt because of famine (Genesis 42); and this is just a few examples from the first book of the Penteteuch.

But let's transport ourselves back over six hundred years to the year 1400. If you were in that same spot in the year 1400, where would you be standing? You would be standing in a place where the concept of nation states had not yet developed. You would be in "First Nations land" or indig­enous territory, before the arrival of people from Europe. The ancestors of the Opata and the Pima peoples who inhabited the area had migrated there years before.

Now let's imagine you are still standing in the same location and are transported to 1550. Where would we be standing? According to traditional Western European cartography, you would now be standing in New Spain. However, the Opata and Pima who inhabited the region would have not known it as such and the area still had little exposure to persons of European descent. One of the early European "immigrants" to the area, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary, called the high desert region just west of here La Pimería Alta. We could say that the land was contested, not fully under the control of the Spanish powers as of yet.

Now let's transport ourselves to 1821. Where are we now? Mexico? First Nations land? Or contested land? In European terms, it was now known as Mexico. Mexico had fought its War for Independence from 1810 to 1821, so from the point of view of many south of here, this land was Mexican. After the Mexican-American War was fought from 1846 to 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the border between the two countries close to where it is today, but not exactly. So where would we be standing if we were standing here in 1848? Answer: Mexico! This part of the country did not become part of the United States of America until after the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, when the land south of the Gila River and west of the Rio Grande became part of the United States. The land under our feet first became New Mexico Territory, then Arizona Territory, and then, in 1912, the state of Arizona.

Because of the migration of these borders, we have a variety of people from European, indigenous, and other back­grounds in a place that itself has experienced the migration of its own political borders. There are people of Mexican and Spanish descent in the Southwest who say, "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us." Why do borders migrate? Politics . . . money . . . war. . . . It is not usually a peaceful or democratic process. Violence is often a part of the migra­tion of borders. This is an important part of our corporate story; unfortunately, the church has often been complicit in the violence perpetuated in the migration of borders.

Jesus Gallegos, a Presbyterian pastor from Mexico, often says, in regard to the spread of the Christian faith, that the Catholics arrived with the cross in one hand, the sword in the other, and their pockets empty; the Protestants arrived with the Bible in one hand, a rifle in the other, and their pockets empty.

The Meaning and Implications of Borders Migration

The meaning and implications of borders migrate as well. The political, cultural, demographic, and economic context of our nation always determines the meaning and impli­cations of our borders. The border between the United States and Mexico has a very different meaning with starkly different implications in 2013 than it did when its most recent demarcation was set by the Gadsden Purchase over 150 years ago. When the border between the United States and Mexico was finalized in the 1850s, it was a political border that marked where the spheres of influence and power of the United States and Mexico began and ended. It was not designed to prevent people of Mexican descent from crossing back and forth to see their families on the other side or vice versa. It was not a border designed to keep commerce from going back and forth.

For over sixty years, there was no federal armed presence on our southern border. In 1906, the United States had sent a group of armed folks into Mexico, at the request of Porfirio Diaz, the longtime dictator, to put down a strike. Diaz's action allowing foreign armed intervention into Mexico to support the economic interests of foreign capitalists over the interest of Mexican workers provided some of the early sparks to the Revolution. Our government placed the first armed mili­tary presence on the U.S. southern border in 1915 during the Mexican Revolution, which by that time had turned into a civil war. The U.S. government sent troops to Douglas, Arizona, to "hold the line" during the Second Battle of Agua Prieta and to keep the violence from seeping over the border.

The Mexican Revolution was successful in deposing Porfirio Diaz, who fled the country. After he fled, another civil war flared up, as factions of the Revolution sparred for power. Pancho Villa led one faction and Vanustiano Carranza led another. The United States had pledged neutrality, but as the fighting approached the border, eventually the U.S. government had to decide which side it would support. Pancho Villa planned to arrive in Agua Prieta, so as Pancho Villa headed there, Carranza con­tacted the Wilson administration and asked the United States for two things: 1) to allow his troops to cross U.S. ter­ritory to get to Agua Prieta, and 2) to send troops from El Paso to Douglas to back up his troops in Agua Prieta. The U.S. government said yes to both requests, and from that point on, Pancho Villa became our enemy. General John Pershing and Pancho Villa, once pictured hugging each other, became mortal enemies. Villa was soundly defeated at Agua Prieta, where Plutarco Elias Calles, later president of Mexico, led the reinforced troops.

During the Revolution, many battles took place in the northern regions of Mexico, and many families and indi­viduals fled to the United States to escape the violence. Our military presence at the border did not, nor was it designed to, keep families from crossing the border as they sought refuge from the war and the economic devastation that it brought.

The U.S. Border Patrol, the first civilian law enforcement agency designed to control our borders, was not founded until 1924, 148 years after the Declaration of Independence and 70 years after the Gadsden Purchase was finalized. In that year, there were only two Border Patrol offices: El Paso and Detroit. In the 1920s, our nation was in the midst of Prohibition. Part of the purpose of our new Border Patrol was to keep illegal drugs (in a liquid form) from crossing the border. To this day, preventing illegal drugs from entering the United States continues to be one of the main goals of the U.S. Border Patrol. The Border Patrol was also intended to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act-the first exclusionary immigration act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1882.

In October of 1929, the socioeconomic and political con­text began to change dramatically with the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. The 1930s brought the first mass deportation of people from the United States back to Mexico. This deportation, however, affected more than people who were Mexican citizens who had crossed the U.S./Mexico border to live and work in the United States. U.S. citizens of Mexican descent from fami­lies whom the border had crossed were also caught up in the raids and were deported along with thousands of Mexican citizens who had crossed the border when the meaning of that border did not include fear of deportation.

The Migration of Policies

The Second World War ushered in another dramatic cul­tural and economic shift in the United States. During the early 1940s, the economy of the United States boomed as our government mobilized "to save the world from fascism." U.S. participation in World War II so increased U.S. economic vitality that this country was the only major com­batant to emerge from the war economically stronger than it had been before.

The labor market that fueled U.S. economic expansion during the 1940s also experienced dramatic changes. Much of the traditional male labor force joined the armed forces and went to war while women entered the labor market in substantial numbers for the first time to supply workers for our war production. Our history books seldom mention another group who entered the U.S. workforce during that period in large numbers-male laborers from Mexico. In 1942, the United States and Mexico agreed to permit the legal entry of large numbers of Mexican men to fill the demand for labor to keep our agricultural economy going. Officially known as the Mexican Farm Labor Program, it is more popularly known as the Bracero Program, from the Spanish word brazos, which means arms.

The Bracero Program was enacted by executive order and was intended to be a temporary program from 1942 to 1947. Yet, when the war was over and the GIs returned home, they did not go back into the fields. Hundreds of thousands went to college under the G.I. Bill, one of the most amazing pieces of legislation that our country has ever passed. These working class folks, who otherwise would never have had the opportunity for higher education, were granted the oppor­tunity to go and study. So, to continue to fill the shortage in agricultural workers, the U.S. and Mexican governments extended the Bracero Program for another five years, and in 1951 the U.S. Congress formalized the program with the passage of Public Law 78.

By the 1960s, there were two large political forces in the United States that came together to end the Bracero Program. Organized labor was opposed to it because they were concerned that braceros took jobs from Americans and depressed wages. The other force was the civil rights movement. Civil rights groups argued that the Bracero Program was a legalized form of slavery that abused workers. Why would they say that?

Let me give you an example. Suppose I were a bracero, here from Mexico and working for "Mr. Smith," a grower, as a tomato picker. I could come into the country legally, but I could only work for Mr. Smith. I couldn't legally work for anyone else. I am documented to do exactly one thing-work for Mr. Smith. It's harvest time, and I bring in two thousand pounds of tomatoes and I take them to Mr. Smith and I say, "Señor, here are your tomatoes." Then, he says, "Oh, Mark, you are such a great tomato picker, and I'm so proud of you, but I have a problem. I haven't been paid for these toma­toes yet. Would it be OK if I paid you next week?" And I say, "Sure, that's OK, next week will be fine." I come back next week with another two thousand pounds of tomatoes. And Mr. Smith says, "That's wonderful; I got paid for last week's tomatoes, but I can only pay you for half of what I owe you for this week. I'll catch up next week."

And so it continued. There were growers who followed the rules, but lots of folks who didn't. So what do I do? Do I com­plain? What would happen if I do? The word would get out that I'm a problem worker, and Mr. Smith would try to send me back to Mexico. And if I left Mr. Smith's farm and tried to work for someone else, no one would hire me. Thousands of workers were never paid the wages they were owed, and their children and grandchildren have had to fight for their stolen wages. There were major abuses of farm laborers, and the federal government officially terminated the program in 1964.

The end of the Bracero Program did not stop people from crossing the border to look for work, nor did it end the desire of growers to have a reliable source of labor. In 1965, people did not have to risk their lives to come to the United States to work for Mr. Smith or the thousands of other growers throughout the country. Crossing was easy, even without papers, and many farm workers migrated to California and the south, and then north, to follow the crops during the growing season. Some returned to Mexico when the last crops were harvested in the north, but many didn't, and the presence of undocumented persons of Mexican descent in the United States grew steadily.

Neither the Mexican government nor the U.S. government thought it was a good idea to have hundreds of thousands of unemployed Mexican men on the south side of the U.S./ Mexico border because of the potential for revolution. Stability was in the best interest of both governments, and both countries were interested in developing a legal avenue for Mexican workers. In 1965, the U.S. government and the Mexican government developed the Border Industrialization Act, which created a kind of Free Trade Zone area all along the border. Under this act, U.S. companies could go to the border and build twin factories, one in Mexico, one in the United States. Factories on the Mexican side paid lower wages than the ones in the United States, but the wages were much higher than in the rest of Mexico at the time. Our two governments saw this as a win-win situation-a constant supply of jobs on both sides of the border and a ready source of labor for U.S. companies in Mexico.

The Border Industrialization Act was supposed to stim­ulate economic growth on both sides of the border. The towns on the Arizona/Sonoran border did experience a tre­mendous amount of growth between 1965 to the present, especially on the Mexican side of the border. The factories that were built, known as maquiladoras, were a huge magnet for migration to the north from other parts of Mexico.

The population growth began accelerating in the 1980s; since 1990, both Nogales and Agua Prieta, Sonora, have doubled in size from 107,936 to 220,292 and 39,120 to 79,138 respectively.  A large portion of that growth is directly related to the migration of persons from the rural regions of Sonora and the poorer states of Mexico to work in the factories in the border towns.

By the mid-1980s, there were over 3 million persons with undocumented status in the United States. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed into law by President Ronald Reagan provided a pathway to legalization for per­sons who had entered the United States prior to 1982 and had maintained residence. In an attempt to prevent a magnet for future unauthorized migration, the law, for the first time, made it illegal for employers to hire persons who did not have legal authorization to work in the United States.

1994-The Nexus of Politics, Economics, and Immigration

In 1994, three critical events happened that have continued to shape and define U.S./Mexico relationships. The first was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which expanded the Border Industrialization Act from the southern border of Mexico all the way up to the Arctic. The govern­ments of all three countries-Mexico, the United States, and Canada-worked hard to reach this agreement. The governments of all three nations saw NAFTA as "mutually beneficial" for the people of all three nations.

Second, on January 1, 1994, the day that NAFTA went into effect, the Zapatistas, a mainly indigenous group in Chiapas in the south of Mexico, rose up in rebellion against the Mexican government. There are over sixty official languages and indigenous groups recognized in the Mexican constitu­tion, and the Zapatistas, a coalition of indigenous groups, believed that NAFTA would speed up the destruction of these indigenous cultures in several ways:

  • Land-From the days of independence through the Revolution, from 1821 to 1910, land had been concentrated in the hands of a few large landholders, but the Revolution had changed that. The Revolutionary cry was, "Tierra y Libertad"-Land and Freedom. Land was distributed to indigenous peoples and was precious to them. The constitution that emerged after the Revolution decreed that communal land could never be sold; this was to prevent history from repeating itself, to keep wealthy ranchers from grabbing tracts of land away from indigenous farmers. But to be able to participate in NAFTA, the United States required Mexico to change that part of its constitution. Communal land could now be sold. The Zapatistas fought against this change, but the government believed that it would help lead Mexico into the industrial age and create jobs outside of the small-farming agricultural sector,
  • NAFTA required that Mexico remove tariffs on goods coming into Mexico from the United States and Canada. This profoundly affected Mexican agriculture, for under the free market arrangement, Mexico could no longer exclude the importation from the United States of commodities such as corn and soybeans, the mainstays of Mexican agriculture.
  • NAFTA also required an end to agricultural subsidies to small farmers in Mexico while U.S. agricultural subsidies to its corn and soybean farmers have risen in the last sixteen years to $40 billion a year. This imbalance in subsidy practice is a sticking point each time the "developed" world and the so-called "developing" world sit down for trade negotiations Highly industrialized, highly productive, efficient, and highly subsidized U.S. and Canadian agribusiness is now in direct competition with nonsubsidized, subsistence farmers in Mexico, undercutting the prices of Mexican agricultural products. As a result, farmers in Mexico couldn't make it.

 

So 1994 was a pivotal year in Mexico: There was agricul­tural sector job loss as Mexico began removing subsidies and tariffs for imported agricultural goods in a phase-out that was completed in 2008. Although it was gradual, small farmers did not have enough time to adjust to the new com­petition. Since it was now possible to sell their land, farmers sold out and moved to the cities to find work. When there were not enough jobs in the cities close to their villages, they would often find their way north to the border facto­ries. Once on the border, if there were not enough jobs or the possibility of making significantly higher wages in the United States was irresistible, many crossed the border to support their families.

In 1992, when Ross Perot ran for president, he had warned that if NAFTA were passed there would be a "giant sucking sound" of American jobs leaving the United States for Mexico. Textile jobs, for instance, had first gone from New England to places like Georgia and South Carolina, and then, with NAFTA, he predicted that they would go to Mexico. Although under NAFTA, some U.S. jobs migrated south and created a boom in the industrial sector in the north of Mexico, there was also a huge economic crisis in Mexican agriculture. Mexico lost more jobs in the agriculture sector in the 1990s than were gained in the industrial sector, and job growth as a whole did not keep up with the growth in the Mexican labor force. Meanwhile, job creation in the United States was focused in the service sector, providing lots of low-wage, rel­atively low-skill jobs to fill, exacerbating the push/pull that was already present in the border area.

In the early 1990s, the United States was coming out of a recession. Remember the catch phrase for the 1992 Clinton campaign? "It's the economy, stupid." The economy was in rough shape, and Clinton rode the wave of discontent into the White House. During the campaign, however, Pat Buchanan, a conservative Republican, emerged as a political voice. He went to San Diego and saw people crossing the border in huge numbers. He talked about the importance of securing our borders and stopping the "brown wave." He never became a political candidate, but his anti-immigrant arguments in the debate influenced all of the candidates, and Clinton became a great supporter of increasing border and immigration enforcement. At this same time, politically, the border under­went the largest transformation in our history, initiating the third critical event of 1994, Operation Gatekeeper.

Operation Gatekeeper began as a pilot program called Operation Hold-the-Line in El Paso, Texas, in 1993, when Border Patrol Chief Silvestre Reyes, said, "I can't stop people from crossing the border everywhere, but I can stop people from crossing right here in El Paso." He positioned his agents right on the border in a concentrated space, then behind them he placed more agents in the gaps behind the front line of agents. In football, this is called goal line defense. It worked very effectively to keep people from crossing the border at El Paso, and it worked politically. But migration then moved away from the cities, and individuals and families began crossing elsewhere . . . in the remote desert areas between the cities. The "goal" of El Paso was defended, but there were one thousand miles on either side until the sidelines.

In 1994, Operation Gatekeeper was carried out in San Diego/Tijuana to block migrants from coming through those cities as well as a way of responding to national anti-immigrant political trends. Unfortunately, the federal government initi­ated Operation Gatekeeper in the same year that the state of California passed Proposition 187, denying undocumented immigrants the benefits of education and health care. This new policy of stopping migration at the border in highly pop­ulated areas and intentionally funneling the flow of migra­tion to less populated areas became the practice all along the U.S./Mexico border. Operation Safeguard arrived in Arizona in 1996, and shortly thereafter, to the rest of Texas as Operation Rio Grande. More and more border crossers were being forced into the desert, and the death toll began to rise.

With the signing of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, President Clinton began a massive increase in the budget for border protection which included a mandate to double the number of Border Patrol Agents from under 5,000 in 1995 to 10,000 by 2001. The actual numbers ended up being 4,388 in 1995 to 9,147 by 2001. During the same period, the annual budget for the U.S. Border Patrol increased from $452 million dollars to $1.146 billion dollars. Under the Bush and Obama admin­istrations, we have continued the policy of increasing the budget and the number of Border Patrol agents. Currently, we have over 21,000 Border Patrol agents deployed-the vast majority along our southern border. The U.S. Border Patrol budget for FY 2011 was $4.6 billion.

Unlike the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by President Reagan in 1986 that provided a pathway to legalization for persons who were in the United States without authorization prior to the Act, Clinton's "reform" provided no such relief and only focused on the removal of persons in the United States without authorization and the deterrence of future undocumented immigrants.

Border "Control" and Its Consequences

For 150 years there had been a fluid border between U.S. and Mexico, but suddenly the border was being robustly enforced. We had, in a relatively short time, decided to change our policy and "control" our borders. Push/pull, come/go, go/come continued, but then when migrants got here, it was no-no. People were forced to cross through the desert areas of Agua Prieta/Douglas, Arizona in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but by the mid- and late-2000s the flow of migration was pushed to even more remote and deadly areas like the deserts and mountains east of Yuma and the Altar Valley southwest of Tucson. Has the strategy been effective? Despite our attempts to "control" the border, the presence of undocumented immigrants has continued to grow, due to the push/pull factors, throughout virtually the entire country.

In 1994, I was teaching Spanish in Clover, South Carolina; other than myself and one other nonnative Spanish-speaking teacher, there were no other Spanish-speaking persons in town. I went back there ten years later, in 2004. Ten years after we started beefing up our border "control" programs and implementing Operation Gatekeeper, there was a large banner decorated with Mexican and Guatemalan flags hanging from the roof of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store with the words: "Tenemos productos hispanos"-we have Hispanic products. The First Baptist Church was offering free English as a Second Language classes. At the bank, a sign asked if you wanted service in English or Spanish. In ten years, Clover, South Carolina, had gone from having two non­native Spanish-speaking people to having a sizeable enough population that grocery stores and banks were marketing to them and churches were reaching out to them.

And this anecdote could be repeated in many towns, sub­urbs, and cities throughout the United States, precisely at a time when our government decided to get serious about enforcing the border. In 1994, there were 4.5 million undoc­umented persons in the United States. Now, after spending billions of dollars to "seal" the border, there are more than 11 million-the number had increased to over 12 million prior to the recession that began in 2008. There have been other more serious and even deadly consequences to our decision to pursue a border enforcement strategy that used the des­erts and mountains as lethal deterrents without considering the power of the economic and family push and pull factors.

Increased Death

Since the inception of Operation Gatekeeper in 1994, three times more people have died in the deserts of the south­west while seeking to reach the "American Dream" than the number of persons who died in the attacks of 9/11. More people have died crossing the U.S./Mexico border trying to provide a livelihood for their families than the combined number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Since 1994, over 5,500 bodies have been found. That doesn't include the deaths of persons whose bodies have never been found.

Boon to the Smuggling Industry

An irony of our increased border enforcement is that it has been accompanied by an increase in the size, sophistication, and wealth of smuggling operations on both sides of the border. Smuggling of drugs and people is a growth industry. In its working paper "An Analysis of Migrant Smuggling Costs along the Southwest Border," the Department of Homeland Security provides data tracking the increased costs of smuggling with the increase of border enforcement. The data presented in the DHS paper corresponds closely with the information of the local residents in Agua Prieta with whom I have talked over the years. According to them, the cost to get across the border has risen from $50 to $100 prior to 1994, if a smuggler was needed at all, to $800 in 1998 when I first arrived on the border, to $2,000 or more today-with a much higher risk of being caught, injured, or killed. The DHS's working paper states that the increased costs for smuggling are only a "potential deterrent."

Increased Injury

Seventeen years of using the deserts and mountains as lethal deterrents and the increasing height of fencing during those years have resulted in a significant increase in the number of persons sustaining traumatic physical injuries while crossing the border. In addition to the intense suffering experienced by the migrants who have not been deterred by our policies that intentionally increase the risk for their crossing, border hospitals have experienced financial and emotional stress as they receive more patients with broken bones or severe complications from hypothermia and hyperthermia. The increasing number of life-threatening and life-altering inju­ries also has a psychological impact on our agents who are tasked with securing our borders, as they are often the first responders to migrants with compound fractures, severe dehydration, and other painful physical conditions.

Entry of States into the Realm of Writing Immigration Legislation

Despite the federal government's massive attempts to "stop the flow of migration," communities throughout the United States, many like Clover, South Carolina, that had not pre­viously been destinations for migrants from south of the border, saw a swell of newcomers to their communities, especially during the years in which the economy in the United States was growing. As economic and cultural fears in communities increased, many anti-immigrant groups began organizing, putting political pressure on local and state governments to do something about the "immigration problem." The argument was often that the states needed to do something since the federal government was not "doing anything." As we have seen, the federal government had been doing something in a big way-it was just ineffective and less powerful than the economic and familial factors driving immigration.

In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070, at the time the toughest antiauthorized immigrant law in the United States. Despite being challenged constitutionally and having an injunc­tion placed on it, the law became a marker that many other states tried to match or surpass. Since the passage of SB 1070, South Carolina, Georgia, and Utah have passed similar laws. On June 9, 2011, Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama signed HB 56 into law, which surpassed Arizona's SB 1070 as the toughest law in the land.

On June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mul­tiple provisions of SB 1070 are unconstitutional. The Court did uphold the section that allows police to request proof of immigration status. The ruling judged that the states were not preempting federal authority by requesting identifica­tion. The Obama administration promptly announced that it would only respond to local law enforcement's immigration requests on the basis of its priorities of focusing on persons who have committed felonies or have previous deportations and would not send immigration officers to take persons into custody who were stopped on traffic violations. In addi­tion, civil rights groups are suing to stop the "papers, please" statute as a violation of a person's civil rights.

Conclusion and Challenge

My colleague Jesus Gallegos and I were speaking to a men's breakfast and prayer group in Loveland, Colorado, and were sharing some of the difficulties of people's lives on the border. Toward the end of our presentation, one brother raised his hand and challenged us: "It's well and good to talk about how bad things are, but you need to do something about it." His challenge to us is rooted in the call of Jesus Christ who, faced with the news of the impris­onment of John, begins his ministry proclaiming and living out the good news of the kingdom of God.

We've rehearsed a bit of how "bad things are" and reviewed the complexity of immigration issues confronting our nations. The rest of the book will share visions of how the church is called to respond in faith to the challenges and opportunities of immigration. In the face of death, we are called to witness to life, to unity in the face of division, to hope in the face of fear, to love in the face of hate because we are the body of Christ. Listen to the words of Jesus:

"The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.

Repent and trust the good news!"

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Bishops on the Border:

Pastoral Responses to Immigration from Morehouse Publishing

Kirk Stevan Smith, Editor

Morehouse Publishing, an imprint of Church Publishing Inc.

Bishops on the Border is available by calling (800) 672-1789 and at www.churchpublishing.org/bishopsontheborderAmazon.com, local bookstores, and through other online booksellers.

 

Church Publishing products can be ordered through any Episcopal, religious, or secular bookstore; through any online bookseller, or direct from Cokesbury at 800-672-1789 or www.Cokesbury.com. Visitchurchpublishing.org for more information.

 

 


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