The Common Good

Been There, Bordered That. So Why Are We Still So Afraid?

Maryada Vallet stands in Nogales, Mexico, pondering this wall.
Maryada Vallet stands in Nogales, Mexico, pondering this wall that separates communities and families.

The Angels of Advent are saying, "Do not be afraid" -- we bring good news of immigration reform.

And what does fear do to us?

We disregard the good news at our doorstep, the opportunity to live with Jesus among us, and keep on building walls at our threshold. Perhaps that's why the angels of the Bible repeat this admonishment -- Do Not Be Afraid -- over and over again, for fear inhibits our ability to see and hear a new vision.

I remember as a child wanting to leave the lights on in my room at night. The shadows and sounds were too much for an imagination that could run wild to handle. As adults, of course, it's our duty to assure children that nothing is living in their closets or under their beds. We offer the comfort of reality so that the child will go to sleep and have sweet dreams.

But you have to admit, as adults we are gripped by the same fear but on a different level. We may compulsively check to make sure the front door is locked. We don't look strangers in the eye (especially those we deem to look "strange") as we pass them on the street.

We build gated communities with security guards, install home security systems, and use household pets as guard dogs. These actions are so very rarely based on reality or in proportion to an actual impending threat.

These actions that we take out of fear on an individual or household level certainly resemble the actions we have taken as a nation in pursuit of our "homeland security." We've erected steel walls, barbed wire, desert sensors, and security cameras, and don't forget the floodlights that illuminate the international boundary all hours of the night.

Then there's the force of nearly 20,000 armed border guards, the drones and other expensive technologies deployed for even sweeter dreams. Each year we add more and more to this security system.

We earnestly want to make sure that the border is shut and triple locked. Were this build up of security not based in immense fear and disillusionment, then at this point we could rest assured that all is secure. Perhaps we'd even feel at peace within our homeland.

For in March 2011, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano said the border is more secure now than it has ever been.

Congratulations....right?! After all, more than $90 billion has been spent on border security in the past decade, tripling it's annual budget in those years. In fact, escalating border security and enforcement have been the sole approach to unauthorized migration for more than two decades.

But with recent talk about immigration reform, Senators Schumer and Graham laid out a strategy in which we "first of all, close the border. Make sure that's shut."

HOLD ON JUST A MINUTE. Didn't we already shut that door and triple lock it? Didn't the security chief recently assure us that we are safer than ever? Why are we trapped in this cycle of fear? 

By the very nature of operating out of fear, and indeed its ultimate paradox, we can never truly be at rest within our borders. And as Schumer has stated, we will be in a perpetual state of "making sure it's shut."

I don't know about you, but as a border resident and humanitarian, I don't want to live that way any longer, and I don't want policy to be guided by that kind of strategy.

Why does the old mantra of guarding our border need to be in the much anticipated and long overdue opportunity for immigration reform? Enough is enough, and it's time to move forward.

Friends and fellow Christians, let's take this opportunity for changing the immigration system to be just that, real change that keeps families together, respects workers, frees the captives and welcomes immigrants, and not another excuse to perpetuate this cycle of fear of our neighbor.

It's time for a fresh discussion about good news.The Angels of Advent have arrived.

Will you join me with your churches and communities to call for something different?

It's more than a sweet dream; it's a new vision.

[Author's Note: I certainly recognize that many other factors converge with fear to fuel the endless escalation of border security, including profit/greed, racism, and lack of understanding about border realities.]

Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border, which promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.

Photo credit: Maryada Vallet stands in Nogales, Mexico, pondering this wall that separates communities and families. Towers of cameras and lights keep watch on the other side. Courtesy of the author.

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