The Common Good

Crisis and Empathy at the Border

In March of this year, U.S. and Mexican citizens gathered together on both sides of the border fence to honor the memory of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Five months earlier, Rodriguez, of Nogales, Mexico, was shot seven times from behind by U.S. Border Patrol agents for allegedly throwing rocks over the 14-foot fence. He was only 16 years old — a young life caught in the crossfire of increased cross-border shootings.

Araceli Rodriguez, mother of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, shot last year. Photo courtesy Barry Gosling/Sojourners.

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Tucson, Ariz., residents Maryann and Barry Gosling were among those who participated in the bi-national vigil.

As a volunteer with Tucson Samaritans, an interfaith humanitarian organization that provides food, water, and medical aid to migrants in the southern Arizona desert, Maryann traveled to Mexico and visited the site where Rodriguez was killed. Viewing the multiple bullet holes in the wall next to the building where Rodriguez was shot had a visceral effect on Gosling.

“Being a mother and grandmother, I couldn’t imagine how his family must be feeling,” Maryann told Sojourners. She knew she had to go to the vigil to support the Rodriguez family. 

During the U.S.-Mexico memorial service, prayers and readings were offered by Rodriguez’s grandmother and loved ones. After the vigil, participants passed greetings back and forth with each other. Reaching through the fence, Maryann’s husband Barry gently grasped a woman’s hand and took a photo of their embrace. It was only later that he discovered the woman’s identity: Araceli Rodriguez, Jose’s mother.

“I cannot tell you the emotions that went through me when I realized that was his mother,” said Maryann. “I could just see the pain and hurt in her eyes.”

A longtime subscriber of Sojourners magazine, the Goslings submitted the photo in hopes that it would “continue to help people understand the ongoing need for humane immigration reform.”

Their photo captures the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The realities faced by immigrants and border communities are all too often misunderstood and misrepresented,” Maryada Vallet, a self-described “evangelical agitator” for No More Deaths, said.

Vallet debunks some of these myths in “Bordering on the Truth” from the June 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine. One pervasive notion in particular is that the border is safer today because of increased security.

Tell that to the Rodriguez family.

Since January 2010, 19 people have been killed by Border Patrol agents — six on Mexican soil. Excessive use of force by agents is of increasing concern. Facing minimal accountability, the Border Patrol’s culture of abuse and impunity has resulted in militarization of the border.

Standards have also been lowered for the training of agents. In less than a decade, the Border Patrol has doubled in number. Under pressure to find and prepare new recruits, U.S. Customs and Border Protection no longer require a high school degree or GED for its applicants and have dropped its training from 88 days to 55.

“What we are seeing is a crash course in border security training,” Maryann stated.

As Congress continues to debate immigration reform, the militarization of the border needs to be addressed. No more families like the Rodriguez’s should have to endure the injustices perpetuated by our current border patrol system.

“If this situation had been reversed and someone on the Mexican border patrol had shot into the U.S. and killed an innocent citizen, there would be such an outcry in this country,” Maryann noted.

We need this kind of empathy and compassion when discussing immigration reform. The humanitarian aspects of this issue cannot be overlooked, particularly when family members are separated and deported.

“Safety and security is so much of a family value,” Maryann noted, highlighting the need to keep families intact. “You can’t ignore that when talking about the border.”

One only needs to reach beyond the walls and fences we erect to know this is true. 

Elaina Ramsey is assistant editor of Sojourners magazine.

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