On October 8, 9 and 10, eight BHCC members and Pastor Snyder participated in a virtual delegation over Zoom provided by Borderlinks (https://www.borderlinks.org/ ). The goal of this workshop was to learn more about immigration, our southern border, and social justice. It also provided an opportunity for those of us who feel called to this work to reflect on ways to support our immigrant neighbors lovingly and responsibly in the midst of the broken US immigration system. It was an intense three days. We are still processing what we learned and what the next steps for our group might be. An Adult Education class will be held on November 13 to provide you with more information on our experience. Until then, we hope this article will give you an idea about what Borderlinks is and what our virtual delegation entailed.
Borderlinks is a non-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona, which provides immersive educational experiences designed to help build understanding of the impact of immigration policies and inspire social justice work. You can learn more about the history of this organization on the website given above. In short, Borderlinks grew out of the faith-based Sanctuary movement of the 1980’s. Since 1988, it has brought groups of people to the border in “delegations” for education about immigration, life along the border and justice. During the pandemic, it began to develop virtual delegation options, such as the one held at BHCC.
During our delegation we met for approximately four hours each day, and shared takeout lunches between the morning and afternoon sessions. The sessions were a mix of presentations and discussion led by Tania Garcia and Deena Elrefai from Borderlinks, presentations from organizations who partner with Borderlinks, and small group exercises about related topics. During our lunch breaks, over tasty take-out Mexican and Latin American food, we continued our discussions.
We learned a lot during our three days together, but several highlights stand out. We were both sad and a little surprised to realize that, like most Americans, we knew relatively little about the history of immigration. The Immigration Timeline workshop emphasized the linkages between this history and racism, and it also brought out the connections between US policies, such as NAFTA, and the circumstances that drive people to migrate. Most disturbing was the increasing criminalization and dehumanization of immigrants. We came away from this part of the workshop with many new questions.
Another key presentation was from No More Deaths, a Tucson based organization which provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the desert and documents abuse of migrants as well. We were shocked by film clips included in this presentation that showed Border Patrol agents emptying and cutting open water and destroying other supplies left in the desert for migrants because they define it as “litter.” This is happening while migrants are intentionally funneled into dangerous crossing areas in hopes that it will deter migration. Maps of known migrant death locations were sobering.
A migrant from Nogales, Mexico, who also works part-time at Borderlinks told us about the large number of US owned electronics and other factories or maquilas located in this town on the Mexican side of the border. The location is attractive to the US companies because of the cheap labor and the more lax hiring and safety regulations. This border town, which has a much smaller US counterpart, is home to 450,000 people, 70-80% of whom have migrated north in the hopes of coming to the United States for a better life. Living and working conditions are substandard and wages are insufficient, but many potential migrants remain there, working in the factories producing goods used mostly in the United States. An exercise in which we calculated the number of hours workers in these factories must work to buy basic commodities drove home the point that these people are victims of US and Mexican trade policies. Moreover, the pandemic has made the situation even more tenuous.
In the Solidarity/Charity workshop we explored what it means to really stand with marginalized people which got us thinking and talking about important distinctions in how we interact with immigrants. For example, are we focused on our own goals or are we working with immigrants to learn what they need and desire as they try to create their new lives in the US?
A real highlight for our group was the presentation from Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson about the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980’s and the New Sanctuary movement that continues today. This interfaith movement began when Southside Presbyterian let Central American migrants stay in their church to avoid deportation before they could build a legal case for staying. It has grown and changed, but today includes 1100 faith communities across the United States who actively seek to stand with people at risk of deportation (https://www.sanctuarynotdeportation.org/). There is a very active New Sanctuary movement in Philadelphia, but the Pittsburgh organization has fizzled. The courage and commitment to the Gospel to help the stranger and protect the weak evidenced in the work of those at Southside Presbyterian was amazing and inspiring for us, especially since this church has only about 150 members, and had fewer than this in the 1980’s.
We ended our delegation with visioning about the action plan that would work for our group at BHCC. This discussion is ongoing, but the call to act on behalf of our oppressed neighbors in a meaningful way remains strong within our group.
We hope this introduces you to Borderlinks and what your Immigration team has been doing. Stay tuned as we continue to discover where we are being led to welcome the stranger. If you’re interested in learning more, please attend Adult Education on Sunday, November 13, or ask any of us your questions individually at any time.
Sarah Neusius, Linda James, Betsy Hohlfelder, Alan Hohlfelder, Darenda Lease, Theresa Child, Jean Miewald, Judy Delestienne, and Brian Snyder