Today was a long, exhausting day. The first of seven days that will certainly prove challenging as well. Yet I have already learned so much. I’ve studied immigration before; I’m an immigrant myself, but there’s still so much I do not know. Listening to other immigrants stories is a privilege and a gift. Becoming educated about the immigration system currently at place at the Mexico/USA border is an important step in changing the overall process & helping those stuck in a system that is broken and that calls certain humans illegal. I always get slightly overwhelmed by travel. Mostly, I blame it on my OCD. This isn’t even a big change; I’m going to a different part of the USA for a week to learn with my friends. The trip is financed entirely by my ministry. However, it’s still a struggle for me to adjust. I’m very much a creature of habit. I cannot even imagine what it is like for undocumented immigrants to cross the border into a completely different culture, often without family, money, support, and also often with the intent of staying a lot longer than one week.
When we arrived in El Paso, the first thing I saw was the desert; similar to that found in California, but also distinctly unique. It’s amazing that communities can build and flourish in a place where it seems illogical for life to exist. A desert. Dry, cracked earth spilling across the plains while the shrubs that grow on it cling to life with the little water they receive. Immigrants come to this country alone, in the hopes of a better life, but often struggle just as these desert plants do. Yet they persevere.
We like to think of America as the land of the free, the land of the immigrant, but our history has been filled with persecution, poverty, and prejudice. I got to study abroad this summer in Italy. There, I studied the influx of refugees coming from Northern Africa into Italy, and how Italy was wholly unprepared and unwilling to provide for them, going sometimes so far as to not rescue them from drowning boats. Many of the immigrants told me they wish they could go to Germany, or Britain, or the USA instead. The sad truth is that those countries may not be willing to offer much more than Italy has. Undocumented immigrants do take on US jobs. They are underpaid, overworked and always performing some sort of service. If these jobs went to American citizens, pay would have to be higher. Immigrants are exploited; given nothing, yet provide the backbone of our industrial and agricultural labor forces. They actually give us a lot, and we give them very, very little. If anyone works hard, they do.
Tonight, we got to hear the story of John* and his family. He has faced many struggles, including being uninsured, not being able to pay for his children’s education, not being able to work after a stroke, and more. These are struggles many other immigrants also face and identify with. John’s top priority was always his family, for them he came to America. He didn’t believe in the American dream -- until he moved here and survived through all the struggles he faced and saw his children get the education and lives he brought them here to obtain. His story was moving and made me realize how different my concerns are compared to his. The pastor of the congregation we are staying at told us that only seven out of 53 families in her congregation have health insurance and that, at one point, most of the population of Texas was uninsured. It’s amazing what the human spirit and mind can endure, tolerate, and survive. We can always flourish again even after great struggle. Flourishing will be a lot easier if we all cared for our neighbors as ourselves, and believed every human being on the planet has an equal right to a fair start in life. To end, I will leave you with a quote from the wise John, “If we are all humans and children of God, there should be no borders.”
* for the protection of those kind enough to share their stories with us, we are changing their names throughout our blogging.