Refugee and migrant caravan: Report from the Border

Demonstrators in solidarity with migrants and refugees at the border in December.


CHICAGO, IL — In December I traveled to the San Diego-Tijuana border where I had the honor of participating in “Love Knows No Borders”—an interfaith action sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and co-sponsored by a myriad of faith organizations from across the country. More than 400 people gathered to take a moral stand against our nation’s immigration system.

The action set three demands before the US government: to respect people’s human right to migrate, to end the militarization of border communities, and to end the detention and deportation of immigrants.

As we approached, we could see a tangle of barbed concertina wire laid out in front of the fence. Behind the wire stood a phalanx of heavily armed border patrol. When we reached the edge of the wire, some of the clergy formed a semi-circle and offered blessings for the migrants. As prayers were spoken aloud, border patrol officers used a megaphone to inform us that we were trespassing on federal property and that we needed to move to the back of the wire. I recited the Priestly Benediction in Hebrew and English (“May God bless you and keep you …”), doing my best to articulate the prayer between the voices of border patrol barking out orders (a ceremonial first for me).

When our blessings were over, we went back to the other side of the barbed wire and those of us in front formed a line directly facing the guards. A border patrol officer repeatedly told us to leave, adding that he did not want any violence—an ironic statement considering that he and the rest of the riot-gear clad border patrol officers wielded automatic weapons in front of our faces. We began to chant freedom chants and held the line, even as the border patrol officers inched forward and started to push us back.

Eventually, protesters who did not yield were grabbed, pulled to the border patrol’s side of the line and arrested. Most men were thrown to the ground and held down with their faces in the sand while their hands were bound together with plastic ties… Eventually I dropped to my knees and was grabbed and pinned down by two border patrol officers. They allowed me to stand of my own accord and led me to the line of arrested protesters who were arrayed along a fence, waiting to be placed into vans.

Many noted the ferocity of the border guard’s response to our prayerful, nonviolent demonstration. Many of us—in particular the white, privileged members of our delegation— agreed that we had gained a deeper sense of empathy and solidarity with our migrant neighbors, a stronger understanding of the toxic effects of militarization on our border communities, and a more profound conviction than ever that we must all fight for a nation that receives immigrants with open hearts and open doors.

We are, needless to say, far from such a moment at present. True, the immigrant justice crisis in this country began well before the election of Donald Trump—but it is no less true that in Trump’s America, the challenge facing the immigrant justice movement is no longer political immigration reform, but literal triage. In my work supervising immigrant justice programs at the AFSC throughout the Midwest, I can attest that the threats facing undocumented immigrants in our country have reached emergency levels.

During our action, I was honored to be able to help shine even a small light on the injustices of a system that rips families apart, allows children to die in ICE custody, and knowingly sends human beings back to countries to their deaths. Given such a reality, each and every one of us who enjoy the privileges granted to us by this system would do well to ask ourselves, “What sacrifices am I ready to make to dismantle this unjust system once and for all?”

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