Reflections on the Southern Border from Our Presbytery’s Delegation

This past September, five members of our Presbytery’s Leadership Collegium ventured to the southern border as our eyes and ears, hearts and imaginations. In partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Abara Frontiers, they encountered first hand stories, workshops, and connections to those on the ground in both El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. They will share more as a part of our November Stated Meeting of the Presbytery. What is below are brief reflections, resources, a video of their shared pilgrimage.

Read more about their trip framework here.

Check out their photo gallery here.

Click each link below to read their reflection.

Rev. Randy Barge, Moderator of the Presbytery, Pastor of First, Olney
Elder Vijay Aggarwal, Vice Moderator of the Presbytery, Wayne Presbyterian
Rev. Samantha Hudson, Moderator of the Commission on Ministry, Pastor of Glading Memorial
Elder Megan D. Acedo, Moderator of the Committee on Representation, Beacon Church
Rev. Adan Mairena, Moderator of the Commission on Resources and Communications, Pastor of Yeadon and West Kensington Ministry

View the video recap below:

Border Trip Blog by Rev. Randy Barge

Rev. Randy Barge, Moderator of the Presbytery, Olney Presbyterian Church

One of the things that touched me was the memorial wall of placards and flowers left in response to the tragic shooting in early August that took that lives of at least 22 people. It drove home for me the belief that much of our current immigration rhetoric is steeped in fear and hatred of people who are different from us. But seeing all the expressions of sympathy and love at the memorial wall, helped to affirm my belief that the forces and powers of hatred and fear do not have the last word. Throughout our stay, we met people, most of them young people, who are committed to bringing the love and justice of the Kingdom of God to bear in their care and concern for asylum seekers and others. We met people like the young college student giving a year of her life as a volunteer at the Oscar Romero shelter in El Paso. We met people like the Presbyterian pastor and his son, both Mexican nationals, whose church, despite its meager resources, sponsors a shelter for asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico due to a recent change in U.S. Policy. And of course, we were hosted by a wonderful group of young people from Abara, who helped us to make sense of much of what we experienced at the border. I was deeply touched and inspired by all of them.

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Border Trip Blog by Rev. Adan Mairena

Rev. Adan Mairena, Moderator of the Comission on Resources and Communications, Yeadon Presbyterian Church and West Kensington Ministry

They looked fit and light skinned, as if they were in their early to mid 20’s. They also had two little girls; one looked about three and the other was at school. “We are from Progreso, Honduras and have been here [in Pasos de Fe, a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico] since April,” they shared with me. “Our next court date is in February of 2020. We left Honduras to escape the gang threats. I was not in a gang at all. My wife got into a fight with a woman from a gang and a man jumped in and I had to jump in to protect mi mujer (my woman). The gang started putting death threats on our door, that they were going to rape and kill my wife. We warned not to go to the police. We did. And, immediately as we left the police station the gang found out- our house was burnt. The police and the gangs work together, I got our two little girls and my wife and we left with just clothes. We spent 12 nights under a bridge in Tapachula and eight nights under a bridge in Mexico DF. We made it up here and were at another church but they had a time limit as to how long we could stay. We came here and it is good. We can stay as long as we want and there is no pressure. Everyone cooks their own meals because we all have our own foods. The Cubans eat how they eat and the Mexicans also make their own food. Their cheese here isn’t as strong as ours but I have found some. We go to the centro and buy it. We found a school and registered my daughter. Our final destination is Tampa, Florida. I have family there and we talk often. They are waiting.”

As I left them I was reminded of a young couple about 2000 years ago fleeing to Egypt in hopes of saving their newborn’s life.

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Border Trip Blog by Rev. Samantha Hudson

Rev. Samantha Hudson, Moderator of the Commission on Ministry, Pastor of Glading Memorial

The land border wall is overwhelming. To stand in its shadow made me feel small. It is massive, sturdy, and goes on forever. It is a clearly identifiable construction that runs down the middle of this one metropolitan area of Juarez, MX and El Paso, TX. But here is the thing: it is built on U.S. soil. The Rio Grande is the internationally recognized boundary, and then there are ten feet of U.S. land, and then a canal, and then ten feet of more U.S. land, and then the wall. So, it is not functional. Migrants technically can come to the wall and shout “asylum” through it, and Border Patrol would have to go, bring them over, and process them. And, as Border Patrol agents admitted, it will not indefinitely prevent “illegal” crossers either. There is always a way through; it is simply a deterrent, designed to slow them down and give Border Patrol time to catch them. The wall is not functional. It is symbolic: of a desire to create barriers and define who is in and who is out. And it is overwhelming to see such hatred so plainly manifest. The work that we need to do is about the walls in our hearts and in our own communities. That is where we start.

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Border Trip Blog by Megan Acedo

“God heals the wounds of every shattered heart.”
-Psalm 147:3

Elder Megan D. Acedo, Moderator of the Committee on Representation, Beacon Church

I have come back from the borderlands with a shattered heart. It is broken in pieces over the systems that perpetuate separation and pain, over the stories of people I talked with, over the ways in which we as human beings talk past each other in order to justify the presence of a massive barrier between two countries. I have struggled to find the Good News in this story, to see how God is reconciling the world to God’s self and us to each other. The one piece of Good News I can see right now is in God’s people, committing themselves over and over again to hard conversations, to caring for beautiful immigrant babies, to seeking out justice and peace even in a time and place where those ideals seem far away. People like Sami, Liza, Bethany, Claudia, Blanca, Gustavo, Keisha, and so many more. I cling to this verse from Psalm 147, because I need to be reminded, even in the midst of brokenness, God is at work binding up our broken hearts and calling us to bind up broken systems of oppression, to love fiercely, and to pursue justice, wholeness, and peace.

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Border Trip Blog by Vijay Aggarwal

Unintended Consequences

Elder Vijay Aggarwal, Vice Moderator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, Wayne Presbyterian Church

As I reflect on our trip to the border, I am struck by how well-intentioned people and well-intentioned policies have unintended consequences for those who are seeking safety in our country.
While talking to border patrol officers, their view is placing detained children in open cells or cages is the best way to ensure their safety. However when we see those images, they seem inhumane and unjust and undoubtedly leave long lasting emotional scars on those who are detained.

While in custody, the immigrant’s belts and shoelaces are removed to prevent the possibility of unintended or self-inflicted harm. When those individuals are released in Mexico to await their trial date, the drug cartels target those who have sagging pants or untied shoes. Since these individuals are often without sufficient resources, they are vulnerable to victimization by cartels in Mexico.
While every country has the right to defend its borders, the recent expansion of Expedited Removal allows agents of our government to stop anyone without cause and initiate deportation if they cannot prove that they have been a legal resident of the U.S. for more than two years. I am not sure any one of us could provide that level of documentation in a random search and yet, these individuals are subject to removal without any further court action.

Although there are some who feel these policies will deter immigration in the first place, it seems to me that anyone who has made the decision to abandon their home and family, sell all they own, and risk their lives in a long and uncertain journey will not be deterred by these actions. What does occur is the imposition of additional trauma in an already tragic situation. As we contemplate the balance of law and order and our Christian call to grace and compassion for the stranger in our midst, I hope we keep the unintended consequences central to our prayers.

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