Guatemala & US/Mexico border
spring 08

January 18, 2008

Introduction


Along the border

Our group has spent the last week living in a community center in the town of Agua Prieta that lies on the Mexican side of the US/Mexico border. The focus of the week has been looking at the immigration issue from the perspectives of different parties involved.  It has been an extremely thought provoking, moving experience for all of us as we have met with border patrol agents, Mexican authorities, US and Mexican pastors, maquila (factory) personel, workers in fair trade co-ops and also interacted with the locals.  We have also, through service at a migrant resource center, been able to personally interact with and serve would-be illegal immigrants that were caught by the border patrol and deported.  We have walked the deserts that the migrants walk, and we have stood in front of the 12 foot high fence that splits one community into two.  We have also witnessed people climbing over the wall and illegally entering the USA, once while we were standing in front of the wall ourselves, and another time while watching on camera monitors at the border patrol headquarters.

Accommodations

While in the border lands we stayed at a community center in Mexico.  Some of us got air mattress to sleep on, others didn't.  The heat went off the first two nights and we all froze.  Our meals always consisted of tortillas and beans as well as rice and potatoes.  Kids from the community would come in and chat with us (in Spanish) and we'd take them for piggy back rides which they loved.

"We stayed at the New Hope Community center in Agua Prieta.  The other houses seemed more run down than the community center.  There were houses that were larger, but the majority were much smaller." -Ali

"Freezing at 4am to swimming at 4pm.  Welcome to the Guatemala cross-cultural.  Snazzy hotel, to the air mattresses 'or not'.  On the floor in Mexico and guess what?  Mexico is cold.  What's sad is that most people can't go home in a few months to their central air and heat like I can." -Jodi

The Border Wall

The border wall spans the entire city limits of both Douglas and Agua Prieta and stretches 4 miles out into the desert on both sides.  In some places the wall looks more like a steel fence and in others it is constructed of landing pads from the first Gulf War with wire mesh on top.  This same wall splits the city of Nogales, and numerous other border towns, literally dividing all communities along the border, in two.

"The wall has been a controversial issue for many years now, but I was still not prepared to stand before it and see the effect it has on communities, families and the environment" -Heidi

"Across the Douglas/Agua Prieta community runs a steel, white, 12 foot fence.  I was deeply disturbed as I touched the cold steel bars that destroyed a community and belittled a nation.  Our guide told us that the fence was not from their community, it was their because of fear and hate across the nation from communities like Harrisonburg and it is from big business who need poor laborers to stay in Mexico so they can be more easily exploited there.  God, break down the walls that divide and oppress." -Anonymous

The Desert


Walking the desert

The desert is truly a unique landscape, one that provides many obstacles when trying to traverse it in a mini and 15-passenger van.  Rocks, dips, shrubs and the one tree we encountered made driving difficult.  We entered the desert with a group from C.R.R.E.D.A. (a drug rehabilitation center) who place water out in the desert for migrants.  After half an hour of driving we stopped the vans and preceded on foot along a dry river bed until we came face to face with the border wall.  Within 2 minutes of arriving at the wall, border patrol agents arrived to investigate, and seemed surprised to find college students from Virginia in the desert.  After reflecting at the wall for some time we returned to our vans and headed out of the desert.

"The desert is full of contrasts.  It is barren and vast, crowded and confining, it extends as far as the eye can see, but it traps people in.  It can hold hate and ugliness, but also hope and beauty." -Moriah

"When we were in the desert we walked to the edge of the border.  The border patrol had to come and make sure that we were not illegals crossing.  It's interesting how this issue doesn't seem real until you're thrust in the middle, until someone comes to check up on you to keep the USA safe." -Mary

"It was a strange thing to walk through the desert to the border on the Mexican side.  I tried to imagine myself as a migrant walking on those paths.  To be hot, cold, thirsty, hungry or tired.  To be constantly afraid.  To be leaving everything I knew behind.  To enter a new place with no plan, only uncertainty.  It is difficult to imagine that feeling, but I think I came close." -Amy

The Maquilas

Mexico seems to have just one thing the USA is interested in: cheap labor.  The maquilas, or factories, are run by US companies who pay their employees as little as $45 a week.  As a project we prepared meals for one whole day based on a maquilas salary.  We divided our group into two 11 person families for this and did all our own shopping and cooking.

"The maquila we visited processed feathers for hunting arrows and packaged fish hooks.  After touring the maquila and learning of the pitiful wages and benefits offered to the workers I was ready to never buy these products again.  However, to not purchase out of protest means the factory shuts down and everyone loses their jobs and are forced to try and migrate to the USA for work.  I either condemn them to poverty, or force them to leave their homes.  There seems to be no good choice.  What should a Christian do in a situation like this?" -Chris

"I have found a new appreciation for minimum wages in the USA after visiting the maquilas.  They work in conditions that are less then appeasing and for very little money.  I respect those workers and their culture more than I ever thought I could." -Sarah

"The task of buying food for my 11 person family with a salary of a maquila worker seemed impossible.  150 pesos for 3 meals ($15).  I didn't know how we would ever make it, but then I was ashamed when I realized that many got their whole lives with even less then this, and here I was worrying about food for the next three meals." -Sabrina

Church/Biblical Reflections

We attended two churches, one in Douglas and one in Agua Prieta.  We also started each day with biblical reflections from the gospel of Mark.  We focused on different passages each morning such as the story of the Rich Young Man and the Sending of the Disciples.

"We visited the Lilly of the Valley Church in Agua Prieta.  The Spanish speaking congregation on the border welcomed us in, sharing their service and food with us.  Dozens of children smiled, and chatted to us in Spanish.  Their exuberance was contagious.  The church was more real and alive then most churches in the USA.  It brings hope in the midst of a difficult border situation." -Briana

"I really enjoyed visiting the hymn singing Spanish/English Presbyterian church in Douglas as well as the drum playing, hand clapping Hispanic church we attended in Agua Prieta.  I also really enjoyed our Bible time as we studied the gospel of Mark and learned new songs in Spanish that would often get stuck in our heads all day.  We would constantly break out into song!" -Michelle

The Next Step

This week at the border has left us all with a greater awareness of an extremely controversial issue.  Although we all feel more informed we feel confused as to how we should respond.  This issue is amazingly complex and we are all struggling to comprehend all the various aspects involved.  The Mexican emigration to the USA is the largest movement of people in history, and many of us are confused as how we, as Christians, should respond.  May God guide us in our search as we travel to Guatemala to continue our studies on this, and other issues.

-Chris & Michelle