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 second installment detailing their encounters and experiences at the U.S./Mexico border. Click here to read the first installment.
Saturday, July 13, 2019
The town of Agua Prieta seems peaceful. As we drove around in our ’96 Saturn, trying not to miss the faded and often hidden stop signs or go the wrong way down unlabeled one-way streets, Bill pointed out a difference from other places we each have traveled in Latin America: there are no security guards outside businesses and very few walls topped with broken glass or razor wire as a security measure. Based on these observations, you might assume that there’s no crime in Agua Prieta. You’d be wrong.
To ensure that their money-making ventures run smoothly here and across the border, the local cartel makes sure there is no crime that might draw the attention of authorities or social media. Violators of the cartel’s rules face consequences that ensure everyone submits to their authority.
Migrants approaching the U.S. border are targets of the cartel. Far from home, they can be abducted or become victims of extortion. In the case of many Mexican migrants, cartel violence is why they left behind all that was familiar to seek asylum in the U.S.
The first order of peacemaking in this situation is to keep people safe, and the folks at CAME (Centro de Atención al Migrante “Exodus”) and the Migrant Resource Center (CRM) are doing just that, as were we when we escorted refugees. But as we know, the peace that God wants for each one of us is much more than that. The Hebrew word “shalom” and the Islamic “salaam” capture the fuller essence of this peace: wholeness, fulfillment, and harmony. This fullness is in the hands of God, but we as God’s people are called to do all we can to help people live into this peace.
Monday, July 15, 2019
“I hope that I can move over (across the border) quickly,” a mother said. “My son is very uncomfortable here.”
“So am I,” I responded.
“Then why are you here?” she asked.
After a moment I answered, “Because God sent me to tell you that God loves you, and there are people here and in the United States that know you are God’s child.”
She smiled, “Gracias, Gracias!”
This morning we learned that this mother and her two children had been allowed to cross over into the States. I hope that in the U.S. she finds people who know that she is God’s child, and she can find a life where she finds peace and fulfillment. Many, if not all, who are seeking asylum deserve that at the least, and our nation needs the gifts that these bright and talented people can give.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
After a delicious dinner at C.A.M.E., the Roman Catholic-run shelter for asylum seekers, Beth and I talked to a young Russian physician. The fear in the young doctor’s words and face was obvious as he shared that he and his very pregnant wife (also a physician) had sold everything they owned to make the perilous journey from Moscow to Cancun. As they waited in Agua Prieta for an opportunity to cross over into the U.S., they had heard about the recent “Third Country Policy” which requires asylum seekers to apply for asylum and remain within the first country to which they travel before being considered for asylum in the U.S. The doctor wanted a higher level of care for his pregnant wife, care that he felt he could only get in the U.S. If they crossed over illegally, he was fearful that they would be deported back to Russia, which he did not want to have happen. It was clear there was more to this story than what he was sharing, but it was clear that for them the clock was ticking.
This is my last full day in Agua Prieta, but the stories that I have heard and the lovely people with whom I have come in contact will remain with me for the rest of my life.
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.