Before he became one of the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children who left their homes last year to make the solitary journey across some of the world's most dangerous borders in search of safety, Mario was a high school student in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. San Pedro Sula is one of the most violent cities in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and at age 16 Mario found himself a recruiting target for one of many local gangs. He tried staying home from school to avoid the gang’s recruiters, but the recruitment strategy soon escalated to threats of physical violence. Unwilling to join the gang, yet unable to avoid recruitment and imminent violence, Mario decided to risk his life in search of a future by traveling alone from Honduras to the United States southern border, where he was apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol.
While blame often falls on migrants themselves when violence occurs at our southern border, the truth is that violence at the border is not just a consequence of a broken migration system but also a fundamental cause. Violence throughout Central America pushes children like Mario to risk the almost certain violence of undocumented migration to the United States for the certain violence of home. And he is not alone. Last year more than 14,000 children made the same calculation, and it is estimated that this number will rise to nearly 20,000 in 2013.
This rise in children arriving at our border fleeing violence comes at a time when overall apprehensions of migrants at the southern border are at a 40-year low, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In the ongoing debate over how our broken immigration system should be reformed, this fact has been cited as evidence that further militarization of our southern border must be the first step. This Lenten season, however, as we reflect upon the intersection of violence and public responsibility, and as we remember the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus himself spent in the desert, let us consider the possibility of a border that responds to human need.
Anabel left her two young children in Guatemala in order to travel to the United States in search of a better life. Like the majority of unauthorized immigrants seeking entry into the U.S., she relied on a human smuggler or "coyote" to help guide her through the deadly dessert between the U.S. and Mexico. When they arrived in an isolated area, her guides beat her, raped her, stole her supplies, and left her in the dessert to die. She survived by drinking water from cattle basins and was eventually found, near death, by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Agents held her overnight, locked in a single cell, and denied her requests to go to the hospital or receive any treatment for her injuries and rising fever. Her wounds were cataloged the next day in a Santa Cruz County sheriff's report, but she was never asked if she had been sexually assaulted. Anabel was only able to receive hospital treatment after her deportation to Nogales, Mexico.
Through Anabel's story, we see again that violence is both a cause and a consequence of migration. Violence forces migrants from their homes, while the increased militarization of our border and criminalization of all migrants under our immigration laws creates a "funnel effect", pushing desperate migrants into the Sonoran desert where they are vulnerable to attack, rape, trafficking, and death.
In 2010, the members of the House of Bishops traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, to bear witness to the complexities of the border, to speak with the communities affected by migration and violence, and to reflect upon the necessity to balance security with the migratory nature of our world. As our Bishops wrestled with these tensions 3 years ago, our Senators and Representatives wrestle with them today, as they consider comprehensive immigration reform. As our lawmakers seek a solution to our nation’s immigration system and as we reflect upon the violence we see in our communities and in our world, let us pray for peace at our border. Let us reflect upon the suffering faced by those who cross the dessert and pray for a solution rooted in the respect for the dignity of all people, on all sides of this issue and on both sides of the border.
- Prayer for the Human Family from the Book of Common Prayer:
- O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work though our struggle and confusion to accomplish you purposes on ear; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Pastoral Letter from the House of Bishops and Theological Reflection: "The Nation and the Common Good: Reflections on Immigration Reform."
- Forced From Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America
- Documented Failures: the Consequences of Immigration Policy on the U.S-Mexico Border
- Episcopal Border Ministries
- Crossing the Line at the Border; PBS