It came out this week that March marked a 17-year low in migrant arrests at the border: 17,000 people were arrested.
Many will celebrate and consider this a sign of the new era of leadership in the United States. I completely understand this perspective, as many will say:
- The borders are becoming more secure;
- Our country has fewer undocumented people inside our borders who could be here representing organized crime;
- Migrants are choosing to stay in their home countries rather than risk the journey to the United States; or,
- Mexico is curtailing migration at their southern border reducing the flow of Central Americans to the U.S. southern border.
I could continue, but I think these illustrate why some would argue this news is purely, 100 percent good news.
But last week I sat across a Tijuana dinner table and looked into the eyes of three of those 17,000 people who were arrested trying to cross the border in March. One of them was a father named Ricardo with children the same age as mine. Before his deportation, he lived in Salinas, Calif., my home town, and worked two jobs — one in the fields and another as a mechanic. We talked about our favorite restaurants.
He was desperate to reunite with his family, hold his children, and provide for their future. As a poor man without “high-skilled” expertise, there is no legal pathway for him to pursue citizenship. He will try to cross again. He'll likely get arrested or detained or imprisoned or deported or die in the desert on the journey north.
The day after meeting Ricardo, I met with a family from Guatemala that has been fleeing gang violence for five years. Their husband and father had been executed and his three kids had a $50,000 bounty on their lives. I actually met them two months ago when they first made it to the U.S. border seeking asylum only to be rejected and sent away. Their 30-day Mexican visas have now expired, meaning they'll likely be deported back into Guatemala toward their potential execution if not allowed into the United States.
The youngest sibling, a 10-year-old girl, reminded me so much of my daughter, Ruby. Before parting ways I looked into her sparkling eyes and said, “I will pray that someday soon you will be able to come over to my house and play in the backyard with my daughters. They would be lucky to be your friend.”
In light of these experiences and news of the reduced migrant arrests in March, here are some of the questions I’m asking and ones all Christians should consider:
With the reduced movement across the border, am I celebrating what I perceive is best for my country or what is best for my human family? Do my national values conflict with my kingdom values?
Are the migrants fleeing violence in Central America staying in their home country because things are improving for them or because they know they won’t make it into Mexico or the United States? If it is the latter, how many people will die who could have survived if we offered assistance?
How can we not just turn people away at our borders, but offer support to local communities in Central America as a way to improve their infrastructure and reduce forced migration?
How many children will grow up without a father or mother (like Ricardo) in their lives because they couldn’t be reunited? What are ways we can reform our laws and systems to create more legal pathways toward citizenship that reflect our “family values”?
One of the recent strategies used reduce illegal migration is to intentionally separate children from their parents after being detained and arrested in the U.S. Do the means morally justify the ends?
What is one way I can both understand the perspective of those celebrating these statistics and continue to accompany and stand with and for my migrant sisters and brothers experiencing so much pain?
Will you join me in asking these questions and consider ways we can best reflect the heart and life of Jesus amid these complexities?