“Borders are invisible until they’re not.” VDS Maymester course Part 3

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Robert Frost

Looking at the wall in the Sonoran Desert from inside a Border Patrol vehicle

Borders are invisible until they’re not.

The wall the US built, closing off Mexicans along with other Southern and Central Americans from family and jobs, is as imposing and harsh as the policies that inform its existence. People come and go through checkpoints and pass with varying amounts of trouble or ease depending on which flag is stamped on their passport. Border patrol agents do not hide their deferential treatment toward US citizens. After going through checkpoint a third time there was no indication I’d been in or out of any country. Strolling back into the Mexican side of Nogales after a brief stop in the US brought not even a nod from agents at the gates. When walking to the US we were checked through quickly. Our Mexican friend and guide, Cecilia, got a very different response when walking into the US. The agent who nodded and “joked” us through turned to her, sent her through a different line, and was more abrupt when checking her documentation. It was a withering feeling to watch this obvious display of racism. What I saw in the agent’s behavior toward Cecilia spoke in great part to why the wall exists. The US wants to make life very hard for brown, Spanish speaking people. Why else would the government create such foreboding obstacles?

The wild brush, prickly cactus, jagged rock covered Sonoran Desert drapes the parched earth with a deadly beauty. People wilt in its heat. It is not uncommon for travelers’ bodies to be found in this unforgiving place. And yet there is a wall running across an area that is barely walkable. The US government goes out of its way to make a statement to brown, Spanish speaking people that they are very much not welcome. It is a head shaking irony that so many of the Border Patrol agents who police entry and exit are themselves Mexican or African-American.

Border Patrol agents took a group of VDS students on a bumpy ride just south of Tucson. There were stories of migrants who were found after walking for days, barely able to hold themselves up, when “coyotes” would take whatever monies or valuables they had on them for a guarantee of safe arrival some few hours away. The hours would translate into days and often leave the travelers dehydrated and all the more vulnerable to their surroundings and anyone who happened by with ill intent. These agents told stories of finding people who were parched from the heat after their long journey. After giving them water they were turned over to another government agency thus allowing Border Patrol to wash their hands of the travelers’ fate. It would be a simple and painful unknown to someone like me except I spent a morning in a federal courtroom where a judge read the entry dates and amount of jail time to be served of eight migrants at a time and eventually streamed-lined 62 men and one woman toward lockup for crossing into the US illegally.

An organization called No More Deaths monitors crossings of northward headed migrants into Arizona. One Quaker witness spoke of the hope that drove desperate people to cross into the US over and over despite the barriers. On a desert walk I saw cattle in the fields as we passed through. It occurred to me to wonder how they got there. It turns out there are gates in the wall allowing ranchers to send their cows “over the line” to graze. These animals are allowed a more gracious crossing than brown, Spanish-speaking children of God.

Men and women encounter the steel barrier erected by the US on their way to the Promised Land. This wall is unquestionably responsible for many deaths of our neighbors who just want to give their families a decent life. It extends for several hundreds of miles, across four states, with breaks leading into some of Arizona’s most difficult to cross country. The Kino Border Initiative, a Catholic Charity, shared with the VDS students that we are twenty years gone and the only illegal transgressions at this wall have been by would be gardeners and maids.

During my Hebrew Bible studies there was a great deal of emphasis on the expectations God’s people to be hospitable to strangers. Old Testament characters opened their homes to passersby as an act of obedience which probably saved the travelers’ lives. Had they come to a wall such as exists at the US southern border there would likely have been more stories with endings like unto Sodom and Gomorrah. The God of the Hebrew Bible would never have approved this soulless monument to mean-spiritedness.

During a two night stay on the Mexican side of Nogales families treated VDS visitors as the weary travelers we were. We were fed delicious homemade meals and provided with comfortable places to sleep.  It was a modern day testament to true hospitality. It’s a shame the US government cannot find in its heart to welcome God’s children below its southern border in like fashion.

Susan Hudson McBride, MDiv2

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.   …Robert Frost Mending Wall