Day 6: Border Awareness Experience, Nov. 4, 2017
by Kathy Sevig
“The United States is experiencing a deep, epistemic breach, a split not only in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know—what we believe exists, is true, has happened, and is happening.” Bill Moyers
“Is not the truth the truth?” William Shakespeare
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is True, Whatever is Noble, whatever is Right, whatever is Pure . . . think about these things.” Philippians 4: 8
It is our final day in El Paso. We came to the border to seek the truth about immigration. We leave with the truth of our experience: what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have felt. We go home to speak our truth to our families, our friends, and our communities.
Misa Fronteriza, Border Mass
The final stop of our border experience is the Misa Fronteriza, the Border Mass; the people of Juarez gather on the Mexican side and look across to the people of El Paso gathered on the American side. We stand, sit on chairs, or sit on the cement slabs that slope down to the dry river bed and canal, so close together yet so far apart.
The mass is held in commemoration of deceased migrants and for justice in immigration policy. Border patrol cars block both ends of the seating areas. A drone circles overhead. Border patrol guards are everywhere. I have never before been to a prayer service so heavily watched by law enforcement.
A priest gives the introduction to the service. As he speaks, memories of all that I have heard, seen, and felt flood my mind, and I know he speaks the Truth.
“Dear brothers and sisters, once again we gather together in faith here at our international border to ask God to continue to strengthen, guide, and shepherd us in our resolve to love our neighbor. We mourn the suffering of brother and sister migrants and refugees from Latin America and everywhere else around the world:
“Those with hope to seek a better life for themselves and their families; those with hope to be reunited with their families in the U.S.; those who have never returned home; and those who have died before arriving at their destination.
“ . . . these are times to continue our work for justice, so that every person, younger and older, may have the opportunity to move freely as needed to improve their lives and contribute to society, where their labor is respected instead of exploited, and where deportation and family separation is no longer a threat and a constant source of fear and uncertainty.”
Symbols are brought to the altars on both sides of the border that represent the migrants’ journey to life: The cross, which guides all migrants in their journey of suffering and even death; Our Lady of Guadalupe, who enlightens the migrant’s way; national flags, symbols of identity as citizens and human beings; backpack, sandals, and water which represent the migrants' basic needs along their difficult journey; the DREAMER youth, seeking respect, understanding, justice, and opportunity through the DREAM ACT legislation; a remembrance of the migrants who have died on the journey, those drowned in the canal, or most recently, asphyxiated inside a tractor trailer as victims of human trafficking, all seeking a life of dignity for themselves and their families.”
Because we have experienced the truth of the border, the symbols elicit powerful emotions. The priests read scripture and offer prayers for us and for the immigrants and refugees who have left their homelands to find a more dignified life for themselves and their families:
“For the elected officials of our countries that they may seek to enact more just and humane immigration laws that uphold the dignity of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters so that there may be an end to all discrimination, deportations, and family separations.
“For all DREAMER youth, who indeed contribute greatly to our communities and society, but whose very lives are subjected to policies that threaten their opportunity for a better and secure future.
“For all migrants—children, youth, men, and women—who have died in their attempt to cross this border, especially those who have perished due to drowning or as victims of trafficking, and especially those who have never been identified.
“May our eyes be open to the reality of persecution, division, fear, and death present in the lives of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters. May the spirit of God compel each of us to work unceasingly for their rights as humans and their dignity as the children of God.”
I wonder how many people here are looking across the border, searching for family members separated from them by the wall. I recall stories of the Berlin wall and wonder if the separated families we pray for will ever be together again. A drone continues to circle over head—always watching, watching.
We cannot stay for the rest of the service; it eases our leaving to hear the prayers offered for everyone involved in the immigration crisis: those who make the unjust laws that their hearts will be changed, those who are hurt by them that their suffering will be eased, and those who have died trying to find a better life.
It is time to go. We climb into the van one more time and Father Bob drives us to the airport. We hug each other and promise to keep in touch. We thank Father Bob, our amazing host, for his organizing, grocery shopping, cooking, chauffeuring, excellent choice of restaurants, and spiritual guidance. We thank Vicki, our wonderful group facilitator, for her work organizing our trip, for her wonderful music, and for the inspiration of morning and evening Reflections.
We are filled with love and gratitude to both of them for helping open our minds and hearts to the truth of immigration. I am hopeful as I leave because I believe—as Ghandi did—that throughout history “the way of truth and love has always won.”
“Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of Time.”
“It is in our hands, to make a better [more truthful] world for all who live in it.”