I like to think that I have some inkling about border life. I grew up in Brownsville, Texas, the southernmost town in all of the Rio Grande Valley, and America, when it comes to the border between Mexico and the United States. The city’s tagline is, “on the border by the sea.” The Brownsville Seventh-day Adventist Church, which I spent just about every Saturday at, is also the most southern Adventist church in the U.S. (beating Florida by about 300 feet). On the way to school, I would get a papas con huevo (potato & egg) taco from the gas station’s Laredo Taco Company. Conchas y abuelita was the ideal comfort food when the temperature dropped to a drastic 40 degrees, and it was common for children to speak fluent English, while their parents could hardly say the word “hello,” in English. While a lot of people are discussing the border, I doubt any of them have talked with actual people who have lived there.
It all started with the iconic lines by then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
These comments sparked something along the political spectrum. Liberals and conservatives took this to heart, with liberals taking it as a dehumanization of people in need, and conservatives as permission to finally speak their mind about the people that don’t speak English around them. As Michelle Ye Hee Lee writes, “Drug smuggling and violent crimes do exist, but the cases are not indicative of larger trends in the immigrant population.” The Center for Immigration Studies shows that first generation immigrants are predisposed to lower crime rates than native-born Americans, and that immigration and crime levels have inverse trajectories, meaning that while immigration has increased, crime has decreased. The Congressional Research Service, which researches facts and data for members and committees of congress, found that “non-citizens make up a smaller percentage of the inmate population in state prisons and jails, compared to their percentage to the total U.S. population.” A report by the American Immigration Council found that only 1.6 percent of immigrant males, ages 18 to 39 years old were incarcerated, compared to the 3.3 percent of native born males. Every objective fact and researched point made by the President and his cabinet have proven to be misconstrued or just flat out not true.
International Education Services
International Education Services (IES) was a nonprofit funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Rio Grande Valley. When a family was caught crossing the border, the parents were taken to handle their paperwork to either be let into the country or deported, and the children were sent to foster homes. I know this because my family worked as one of the foster homes. Hundreds of children came through our home, and they were each like a brother and a sister to me. What did it matter that we couldn’t speak the same language too well? We ate together, played together, and lived together. I saw firsthand what removing children from their parents can do. The kids that stayed with us would cry at night sometimes, because even though they had their own room, a loving family, toys and food, they didn’t have their parents.
The youngest child we ever housed was a baby girl, no older than two years old; she still needed a crib to sleep in, so we built her one. She became my sister, and when she was taken back, my family cried and cried, because we had lost a family member. The longest stay for one brother and sister was a year. Three hundred and sixty five days of living together while they didn’t have their own family. When the IES agent came to take them back to their family, we held each other for over half an hour and cried into each other’s arms; we had become a family. Even the agent who was at first very abrasive, told us to take as much time as we needed.
Now, IES was not without fault, there were sexual misconduct complaints at several of their shelters, specifically their Los Fresnos location. Deficiencies were also found among their nine facilities. This is not to idolize or demonize the physical nonprofit, but to show you that there are different ways to handle children and their parents coming across the border, rather than locking up the record 14,000 children. Among the most horrific scenes, hundreds of migrant children are being moved at night between shelters all over America to keep them confused and unable to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. There are better ways to handle this, but sadly, the spin by conservative media outlets have dehumanized these children and their families to nothing more than political pawns.
All of the objective facts show the same thing, immigrants aren’t as bad as some people want them to be. The numbers show it over and over and over again. But that’s not what people really care about. People are angry, the “silent majority” as some have called it are furious with what America is becoming, and that’s diverse. If one wants to see how America is becoming diverse, one only needs to see the 116th Congress of the United States, consisting of the first Native American women, Muslim women, as well as the youngest women ever elected to Congress. The people in cultural power, white people, have become afraid that their way of life is changing. It can be seen all over, from getting tougher sentences in court, to bias from the workplace, to traffic stops. But all of that data really doesn’t matter, because we’re angry. We want something to happen, but we don’t know what. As Charles Duhigg writes,
The American dream is, in a sense, an optimistic reframing of the discontent felt by people unwilling to accept the circumstances life has handed them.
Recently, however, the tenor of our anger has shifted. It has become less episodic and more persistent, a constant drumbeat in our lives. It is directed less often at people we know and more often at distant groups that are easy to demonize. These far-off targets may or may not have earned our ire; either way, they’re apt to be less invested in resolving our differences… Without the release of catharsis, our anger has built within us, exerting an unwanted pressure that can have a dark consequence: the desire not merely to be heard, but to hurt those we believe have wronged us.
The wall is just a bad idea. Not only morally, but financially as well. Every number from any objective source will tell you this. This is all pomp and circumstance, as Albert Ríos writes in “The Border: A Double Sonnet”:
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
For many, the constant rhetoric is exhausting, saddening, and spirit-breaking. Instead of listening to a man with an inherited net worth of $3.1 billion tell you how to treat a poor family coming to America, let us listen to our conscience. Let us speak to these people one-on-one and hear from them. For many, the constant rhetoric is exhausting, saddening, and spirit-breaking. Instead of listening to a man with an inherited net worth of 3.1 billion tell you how to treat a poor family coming to America, let us listen to our conscience. Let us speak to these people one on one and hear from them.
Christ regards all acts of mercy, benevolence, and thoughtful consideration for the unfortunate, the blind, the lame, the sick, the widow, and the orphan as done to Himself: and these works are preserved in the heavenly records and will be rewarded. On the other hand, a record will be written in the book against those who manifest the indifference of the priest and the Levite to the unfortunate, and those who take any advantage of the misfortunes of others. (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 512.1)
There is a cause for the moral paralysis upon society. Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping their very foundations. Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue? (The Review & Herald, November 8, 1881, par. 9)
The suffering and destitute of all classes are our neighbors, and when their wants are brought to our knowledge, it is our duty to relieve them as far as possible. (The Review & Herald, January 18, 1887, par. 15)
They should be constantly reaching out to relieve the miseries of others; to enlighten those who are in ignorance of our faith; to feel it their work to relieve oppression wherever they find it; to break from the limbs the bands of oppression and deliver from the iron power of vicious habits; to lead bad men and women up to a higher public and social position; to encourage their capabilities and increase their happiness. These objects will be dear to the heart of every follower of Christ. Every true Christian is a reformer. There must be a continual change for the better to improve men and the condition of society generally. (Letters 1, 1882, par. 34)
I am so wearied and tired out with the heartless manner in which human, erring man treats his brother, who may be just as much beloved of God as he himself is. Little love is expressed in attitudes and words when one is supposed to have moved not in accordance with the will of men….There is no excuse for this manner of dealing, and in the name of the Lord I protest against it. (Letters 50, March 12, 1897, par. 34)
- If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20–21, ESV)
- “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30–31)
- When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33–34)
- When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 10:9–10)
- He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18–19)
- Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)
- You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
- Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:5)
- Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name. (1 Kings 8:41–44)
- The sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler. (Job 31:32)
- But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29–37)
The Newer Colossus
The poem, “The New Colossus,” is branded within the Statue of Liberty, with its famous lines, “give me your tired, your poor,” it is essentially the immigrants’ anthem. But as time marches on, and our political landscape has changed, Karen Finneyfrock has written a more accurate piece entitled “The Newer Colossus,” from the anthology, We Will Be Shelter: Poems for Survival, which I will leave in its entirety here:
My feet have been wilting in this salt-crusted cement
since the French sent me over on a steamer in pieces.
I am the new Colossus, wonder of the modern world,
a woman standing watch at the gate of power.
The first night I stood here, looking out over the Atlantic
like a marooned sailor, plaster fell from my lips parting
and I said, “Give me your tired, your poor,” like a woman
would say it, full of trembling mercy, while the rats ran
over my sandals and up my stairwell. I was young then
I didn’t know how Europe and Asia, eventually the Middle
East, would keep pushing their wretched through the bay like
a high tide. I am choking on the words I said about
the huddled masses. They huddle on rafts leaving Cuba and we
turn them back. They huddle in sweltering truck backs crossing
the desert and we arrest them. I heard about a container
ship where three Chinese hopefuls died from lack of oxygen
pretending to be dishrags for our dollar stores. How can we not
have room for them? We still have room for golf courses.
I am America’s first liar, forget about George Washington.
My hypocrisy makes me want to plant my dead face in the
waves. The ocean reeks of fish and tourism, my optimist heart
corrodes in the salt wind.
“Give me your merchandise,” I should say.
“Give me your coffee beans. Give me your bananas
and avocados, give me your rice. We turn our farmland into strip
malls, give me things to sell at our strip malls. Give me your
ethnic cuisine, your cheaply made plastics, give me, by
trembling boatload, your Japanese cars. Give me your oil.
Not so I can light my lamp with it, but to drool it
from the thirsty lips of my lawn mowers. Give me your
jealousy, your yearning to crawl inside my hollow bones
and sleep in my skin made of copper.” Look,
over there is New York. Doesn’t it glow like the cherry
end of a cigarette? Like a nebula from the blackness
of space out here in the harbor? Wait with me. Watch it
pulse like a hungry lion until morning. I should tell you to
enjoy it from here. You will never be allowed to come in.
- © Karen Finneyfrock. Used with permission.
Finally, if I were only able to write a single sentence, I would write this,
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Galatians 5:14
This piece was originally published in Spectrum Magazine.