Community voices

Editorial: Viewing immigration through the lens of community

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On the Mexico side of the border in Agua Prieta, Sonora, the border fence near the port of entry has been painted with murals like this one. Standing 18 feet tall, this section of wall was constructed in 2012 and cost between $2 and $5 million per mile. Photo: Janae Rempel

The March/April issue continues our Vision 2020 focus on Matthew 22:37-40 in which Jesus commands us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. You’ll find features pertaining to loving others in community, whether providing humanitarian aid to those in need, gathering in a support group for transformation or the practice of confession leading to forgiveness and freedom.

I’ve wrestled a bit in defining community. It seems like community involves the gift of time spent with others, of stories shared and heard. It provides a support system for sharing fears and dreams, as well as space for difficult conversation. I’ve concluded that community not only offers solidarity, security and hope, but also welcomes others to sit at the table.

Thinking about loving others in community has given me a unique lens through which to view my recent experience on a Mennonite Central Committee-led borderlands tour in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, in January.

On the border, I saw community in action, providing hope in what feels like an overwhelming situation.

For example, in Agua Prieta, Mexico, where migrants experience harassment from organized crime, Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteers accompany migrants to help them feel safe while they wait to present themselves at the port of entry. The CAME migrant shelter is another safe space.

In Tucson, Casa Alitas welcomes asylum-seeking families in transit and offers housing, food, clothing and medical screening before ultimately helping families reach their sponsors.

Listening is also part of community, and on the border, I heard many voices.

One evening I sat across the table from an asylum-seeking family fleeing violence in Guerrero, Mexico. The man’s grandfather, uncle, cousin and father have been killed by organized crime, and he fears he will be next.

The next afternoon, I sat with a Border Patrol agent who said increased infrastructure will help secure the border. He’s undergone resiliency training to support agents experiencing emotional turmoil and has also added his own water to stations in the desert. He fears his career choice could negatively impact his family.

We visited with a victim of labor trafficking who spent more than two years in detention, toured the Florence Detention Center and much more. If anything, listening helped me better see the complexities of a situation that involves people, not only policy.

What does community love mean for the stranger at our southern border? While I’m not sure where to go from here, it’s important to get to know people, resisting the temptation either to vilify or to romanticize.

Working toward a solution may mean revisiting immigration reform, or it may mean working to help people stay secure in their communities, as the coffee cooperative Café Justo is doing. (See www.justcoffee.org).

Either way, community begins with conversation. When strangers become known, we will be motivated less by fear and more by love and be better equipped to navigate a path forward.

Janae Rempel
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning journalist, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.

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