“The United States is wonderful,” said one woman, after I helped get her oriented to what buses she would take from Tucson to Florida, gave food and snacks to her and her 8- and 9-year-old sons, and helped her find sweaters and a blanket to stay warm through the inevitably extreme air conditioning of the buses. In that moment, I thought about other U.S. towns passing laws to keep people like her out and protesters angrily blocking buses full of unaccompanied minors or mothers and their children. When I saw a look of joy and relief on her face at the welcome we were giving her, I hoped that she would remain naïve to what people were saying about her, and that she not encounter people who would give her a very different reception.
She happens to be a part of the most politicized immigration issue of the year—the surge in unaccompanied women and children detained on the southern border.
I met her and others in similar situations at the Greyhound bus station in Tucson. There, I and other volunteers received the Central Americans once they were released from detention. We supported them as they went to reunite with their families across the U.S. and fight their immigration case in Florida, California, New Jersey, and many other locations. We offered them food, clothing, and explanations of their bus route. A representative of the Guatemalan consulate was on hand to explain the immigration process, how to find a lawyer, and when they needed to appear in court.
Being at the bus station was strangely similar to my time at the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, just south of the U.S.—Mexico border, where I supported recently-deported migrants. The women and children came in weary from days with little rest in the always-lit and far too-air conditioned detention centers. They came hungry from inadequate food, both over the course of their journey and in their time in U.S. custody. Much like the recently-deported migrants, they arrived disoriented and confused about their next steps. And, like in Nogales, they were surprised to be received and supported by people from the US.
Being at the Greyhound station in Tucson reminded me how my time at Kino was a moment when I temporarily set aside my hope to work on structural change and was challenged to simply and lovingly welcome whoever came through the door. The current situation presents me and my fellow Americans with the same challenge. We should absolutely advocate for humane and pragmatic policy. But no matter how politically active we are, on a personal level this present reality should remind us to welcome and love.
Many individuals and organizations have adopted this tone of response to the current situation. Yet many of us will never directly encounter individuals caught up in this political firestorm. Ultimately, whether it is Central Americans caught up in these current issues or someone we see in the store, welcoming and loving our neighbor is something we can all do.
Joanna Foote currently lives in Tucson, Arizona and has been involved in issues of immigration for several years, in part from her work in migrant shelters and research deported and return migrants in Mexico. She started learning to love her neighbors more when interning at Casa Chirilagua, a Christian ministry to an immigrant community in Northern Virginia. This post originally appeared on Foote's blog.