Reflection from Agua Prieta

Bill Branch, a retired pastor and Presbytery executive, is also a National Response Team member for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. In July, Bill and his accompaniment partner, Beth Newell, participated in Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s border accompaniment program in Agua Prieta, Mexico. The following reflection is the first installment detailing their encounters and experiences at the U.S./Mexico border.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Another hot day in Agua Prieta dawned with an early morning bathroom trip for asylum seekers in the “Line” at the wall. The first of two groups slated for the day—one of twelve and one of five—went to the office where there are two restrooms and one shower. I wondered in passing how the people manage without a bathroom break from late afternoon until the next morning at 7 a.m. and speculated that it might have to do with the way the body processes moisture in the dry climate. It also helps that the adults are all young people.

Most of the people were young parents with beautiful children. The children who were old enough to interact with us were very bright and friendly. They liked the shower and bathroom breaks at the office because there are toys to play with and books to look at and read. In this group of twelve, seven were children. I was particularly impressed at how involved a father was in the care of his six-month old son. Mother, father, and infant seemed like a lovely family and it’s my opinion that they and their parents would be a fine addition to any community.

My accompaniment partner from Upstate New York is Beth Newell, who was a biology professor at a small liberal arts college before she retired. After completing our early morning responsibilities, we headed for Café Justo—a coffee house supported with funds from Presbyterian Mission Agency and part of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s work at the border. Café Justo is owned by a coffee cooperative based in southern Chiapas, Mexico, and was formed to ease poverty and slow down the migration from Mexico. Since I have previously spent time in rural Chiapas, it was meaningful to me to support this outlet and this coffee (and the air conditioning didn’t hurt either).

While we were there we ran into Jack Knox, a Mennonite pastor, who volunteers with the migrant ministry in Agua Prieta. Giving a history and sociology lesson all in one, Jack was able to fill Beth and me in on the past and current states of this area of the border. In light of everything I learned, I was left with a deep admiration for the work that Jack and Linda are doing in the midst of the immigration crisis. May their tribe increase!

Note:  The situation in Agua Prieta continues. Since August, a new policy has been implemented along the Texas portion of the US/Mexico border requiring asylum seekers to return to Mexico while they go through their immigration proceedings. As a result, thousands of asylum seekers are facing the same perils described in these reflections for months on end.

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