Border Engagement

July 22, 2013

A couple of recent events help show the ability of border experiences to spark political and theological reflection. Earlier this month, more than 4,600 Mennonites gathered in Phoenix for the convention of the Mennonite Church USA. With immigration issues being a top priority as the group met in the state politically leading the way for the anti-immigrant movement, some who attended the convention took time to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. Traveling through the organization Borderlinks, about 155 Mennonites experienced the border as a reality, not a political talking point. Many crossed the border to visit key border sites in both countries. The border crossings were covered by The Mennonite (here) and the Mennonite World Review (here). Both articles indicate the experience helped teach people about problems with the current immigration and border laws, and the two pieces share a few of the stories heard by participants. Although traveling to experience the border this way is not necessarily possible for everyone, the articles brought to mind the recent Ethics Daily documentary Gospel Without Borders. I first watched the film during a screening held at a church next to the Democratic National Convention last year, which I wrote about in an Ethics Daily article. The film powerfully opens with a trip to the border region to show some parts of the dangerous trek. The images - and the addictive music - stuck with me. Hopefully more churches will use it or similar resources to encourage deeper reflections on this critical issue.

In a similar vein, some individuals who grew up in the U.S. attempted to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. today. Often called "DREAMers" (since they would benefit from the DREAM Act), these young people were brought to the U.S. as children and often know no other place as home. But since they are undocumented, they are unable to fully integrate into the society in which they grew up. So a group of them hoped to bring attention to the problems of current immigration laws by crossing from Mexico back to the U.S. (a few had been deported and a few crossed over to Mexico for this demonstration). They publicly announced their effort ahead of time and even had a live stream of their border crossing attempt (they did not try to sneak over but instead went to officials). As it occurred I watched a few minutes of the effort, which included many advocates gathering and marching at the border on their behalf. Ultimately nine undocumented youth were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Such engagement at the border helped garner media coverage and might even change some opinions (and it could also cause legal problems for those who undertook the risky act). But perhaps there is something prophetic about using such engagement as a teaching moment. As author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote about today's border-crossing effort (which included someone he knows):

He and his colleagues are not sure what will happen to them at the border today. But they are going as people of faith. They are going because they believe in the promise of abundant life beyond borders. They are going because they believe in the God who can make a way out of no way.
Wilson-Hartgrove also compared today's action to the "Freedom Rides" that helped push the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Perhaps this is something we must experience (live or through a documentary/webstream) to more fully grasp the important theological and political implications.

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