On a beautiful Sunday afternoon just a few weeks ago, a friend of mine courageously crawled under a Border Patrol truck. And he wasn't changing the oil. Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa was riding his bike to work when he came upon a scene that is all too common in southern Arizona, where racial profiling by the Tucson Police Department is permitted through the notorious legislation SB1070 and Border Patrol roam our streets. Multiple police cars and Border Patrol trucks were surrounding a vehicle apparently pulled over for traffic violation. When Raúl arrived, he saw five children crying for their father and a pregnant woman sitting terrified in the vehicle. Handcuffed and being transferred to Border Patrol custody was a Latino man named René.
Raúl had to think and act quickly, and he crawled under the Border Patrol truck. He began sending texts that spread quickly throughout a community protection network designed to alert community members and advocates about raids, abuse, and racial profiling by immigration and law enforcement. Media and supporters responded within minutes, just as Raúl was pepper sprayed, Tazed, and pulled out from under the vehicle. Both men spent the night in custody, and public demands were widespread for their release. While Raúl was released the next day, top officials of Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security ignored pleas for René to rejoin his family, and he was promptly deported to Mexico.
Raúl says that at that moment when he decided to crawl under the vehicle for a man and his family whom he had never met before, that he acted because in them he saw the faces of his family and loved ones. That deep sense of connectedness and compassion compelled him to place his own body on the line. He disrupted his own pleasant afternoon in order to disrupt the disappearing of yet another member of the community.
This was not a calculated act of civil disobedience. It was the gut response of living in a community that feels constantly under siege by systematic racial discrimination and injustice.
Ni una más. Oh God, not one more; not one more family torn apart by deportation right before our eyes. No more tears shed by young children who miss the care of their parent. No more spouses worried about paying the rent or if their partner will make it back to them alive.
These intense prayers, frustrations, and tears lifted up for and by people oppressed by the powerful are at the center of God's justice (see Exodus 22:24 for more on God's wrath if resident aliens are abused), and at the heart of the Gospel. The greatest commandment that Jesus embodied is brought to life in these everyday injustices and actions of love, "My commandment is this — to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13, NET)
But the big question is, when you or I see a community member facing injustice, perhaps a complete "stranger," do we consider them a friend, one of our own family, dearly beloved by God? As Raúl modeled in an act of love and resistance, if one member of the community suffers, we all suffer because of this connectedness.
As this story is shared widely, may it challenge us all to reflect on the straightforward courage and tangible acts of resistance needed every single day to put an END to deportations that cause suffering and separation.
No more strangers. We are friends. We are families. We are unified as a community. And as Christians, we are mandated to promote that radical unity between strangers and lay down our lives in the name of love.
May we put our bodies on the line for one another and for our communities, even if it's asphalt on a Sunday afternoon.
Maryada Vallet, originally from Arizona, has kept busy as a border humanitarian, health professional, catholic worker and activist on the US-Mexico border since 2005. Most recently, Maryada has worked with World Vision International in humanitarian response, with her alma mater Azusa Pacific University as an adjunct, and as a consultant for international organizations. For more on US-Mexico border humanitarian work and faith-based principles for immigration reform :www.nomoredeaths.org.