This past weekend, Youth Advisor Lauren Eaton and I took eleven of our senior high youth to Tijuana, Mexico for an immigration justice service/learning trip and border tour. It was transformational to say the least. Our goal was to give them a first-hand experience of life in a border town so they might begin to see and feel the real and devastating effects of our immigration system. As our local hosts reminded us, “Nearly everyone in Tijuana has been deported.” As we discovered during the course of our weekend, the injustices related to immigration are deeply interconnected to so many other issues—economics, poverty, ecology, the drug wars, the military-industrial complex, etc. It is difficult to separate them.
Our youth learned about the history of our immigration practices, NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, detention centers and the prison industry and more. But most of all they got to hear personal stories from the people themselves, people how have been separated from their families, who were raised in the U.S. and are struggling to find their place in what feels like a foreign country. Perhaps one of the most powerful stories was from Hector, a U.S. Army Veteran who was deported when he committed a minor crime after fulfilling his service to our country, a country to which he swore an oath to uphold the constitution. He choked back tears as he told us he had left behind his eight year old daughter.
Here are some additional reflections from a few of the youth:
“This wall is containment of nationality (and of fear). But more importantly, it is an excuse. The difficulty of both governments to deal with the heartbreak, the loss, the unjust and sad stories, is too great a burden. The fence is there like a placeholder—like a bookmark in a difficult book to comprehend. And so, it stays there and we choose to ignore it.”
“It is one thing to hear about oppression and true struggle; it is completely different to witness it. I had no idea how much pain an unforgiving system could inflict on its own species. We have grown very smart as a species, but somewhere along the way we have lost our souls. The greed for a life of comfort, luxury and material belongings has poisoned that which makes us human. More than greed, we need love, more than acquiring we need giving, more than technology we need understanding.”
“Something that stood out to me this weekend was hope and pride and drive inside the Mexican people. I picked up phrases like, ‘Every day is a miracle,’ and ‘We still have hope.’ I also heard things like, ‘It is hard to fight against the U.S.’ I have been reminded of the massive power of the U.S. We, as a country that values freedom and opportunity above everything, are facilitating so much injustice and people don’t know. I feel a great responsibility (but not a burdensome one) to use my position as a member of a society kept running by the peoples’ will to raise my voice and to help to the best of my ability.”
“There’s a line (border). Like a millimeter wide line. It seems so insignificant. There’s a line, but no line can separate humanity. No line can give people a right to a better life or a sense of superiority. No line can define people or families or communities. This line—this separation—is entirely a social construct. It is far from permanent and entirely changeable. So let’s change it. Maybe more than anything, I’ve come to believe in humanity, hope and community.”
These are just a few samplings of the written reflections of our youth. I hope to share more of them with you. In addition to again being reminded to press on in the fight for immigration justice and compassionate immigration reform, the open hearts our youth allowed themselves to have during this weekend inspired me beyond words. Being with them restores my faith in the world and our future and reminds me why I love this work, this church, and our UU faith. I have been touched by each of them and hold them very close to my heart. They remind me to keep on the road to justice even when it gets hard.
-Sara LaWall, Director of Religious Education