by Hunter West //
Last December I took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, led by Abara, a nonprofit faith-based organization, alongside pastors and ministry leaders from around the country. There, I gained a first-hand look at an issue often found in our news headlines.
However, headlines often do not give the fullest sense of the issues that plague the southern border. Oftentimes we hear of the border being an issue of national security though these problems go beyond security conflicts. There is an abundance of humanitarian issues that must be addressed as well.
During our trip we discussed the complexities of immigration policy. Questions arose as to how we can have a compassionate and just response to a family of undocumented parents and documented children. We talked to border patrol agents about how they are overworked and underappreciated. (The attrition rate of border patrol agents is twice that of other federal agencies.) We also learned that a broken immigration system leads to even more broken lives as between 14,500 to 17,000 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year.
However, the most memorable portion of the trip was visiting El Buen Samaritano, a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. As one of the 23 shelters in the city, it offers a place of rest and restoration for weary travelers who typically stay an average of two weeks to two months waiting for their asylum requests to be processed. It also is one of many shelters run by a church, showing that Christians are on the frontlines of the issue at the border, offering our immigrant neighbors physical and spiritual nourishment in such a desperate time of need.
As my group pulled up to a faded blue stucco building, we were met by numerous women and children who warmly greeted us with gentle smiles and soft holas.
Most of my visit was spent talking to a young girl who took a journey from southern Mexico along with her brother and mother. She is unaware of the location of her father. She is 17, uses Duolingo to learn English, loves Harry Styles, and wants to be a kindergarten teacher. With her English better than my Spanish, we talked for an hour about typical teenage-level things, like pop singers who have weird styles. Yet even if the conversation lacked depth, the interaction did not.
While stereotypical descriptions of people approaching the border may cast them as drug traffickers or individuals determined to break U.S. law, neither my new friend nor the other residents I met at El Buen Samaritano resembled that caricature. The details of their stories may differ, but all of them were seeking a legitimate way to enter the United States and build something good for their families as part of a safe community.
Neither a border nor media-induced stereotypes of asylum seekers; neither a physical wall nor a language barrier could overshadow the truth that this girl is made in the image of God and is, therefore, worth protecting. This is a young girl who is no mere mortal but someone who has a soul, who was knitted together in her mother’s womb, who has the potential to create. This is a girl who is eager to flee the poverty of her hometown and connect with her cousin in the U.S. so she can finish her schooling and teach one day.
As she was filled with the hope of what life could be like in the United States, I was filled with sadness over the struggles she will likely face as an asylum seeker. I knew she would have to show a credible fear of persecution to request asylum as poverty alone would not be enough to gain asylum approval. Further, even if that request should be processed, she would face a significantly backlogged immigration court – on average, expected immigration hearing wait times are now 1,572 days (4.3 years). Title 42 also poses an issue as it would allow her to be turned back for public health concerns. She could also encounter metering, a practice that has been in place for a while now (where asylum seekers may be forced to wait in Mexico as their asylum request is being processed).
In other words, my new friend would encounter a broken system where legal immigration is not as straightforward a process as it could and should be.
Before I left the shelter, I gave her a big hug, feeling frustrated with living in a fallen world and not having any power in my own strength over it. It is not God’s heart that this young girl should continue to live in impoverished limbo and be vulnerable to exploitation.
I also think of Jesus, the holy Son of God who took on flesh and made himself vulnerable to exploitation by the very ones he came to save (Romans 5:7-8). Christ’s incarnation took place because it was not the heart of God that we should live subjected to our world, our flesh, and the devil. Therefore, the Father sent Jesus to not only live, die, and defeat death for us – but he also is currently advocating for us before the holy God (1 John 2:1). So yes, Jesus came to save us but he also calls us to discipleship, living as he lived and lives (1 John 2:6).
Instead of balking at our brokenness and forsaking us to fend for ourselves, Jesus moves toward us in compassion and willingly becomes our advocate.
Similarly, may we not forsake the thousands of individuals coming to the southern border, considering them a national security issue. Rather may we move toward them in compassion, ready to receive them. Further, may we consider stepping into the opportunity of advocacy by praying for our elected officials and immigrant image-bearers, speaking out to our legislators and voicing our support for the individuals coming to the southern border.
And as you do, remember my friend from El Buen Samaritano. Remember we can advocate for people like her only because we have a Savior advocating for us.
Join us in advocacy by signing on to this letter.
Originally from Kinston, NC, Hunter West is the Advocacy Coordinator at World Relief Durham. She works to equip and empower congregations across the state of North Carolina to understand God’s call throughout scripture to welcome the stranger, to identify practical ways to serve immigrants in their communities, and to speak out with and for vulnerable immigrants.