Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Time for Change

I just received this message from office of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church. For anyone concerned with the lives of immigrants here in the United States, Now is the time to raise your voice:

From February 13-22, prayer vigils for Immigration Reform will be held across the United States. We invite you to share in this opportunity to lift in prayer both immigrants in your area as well as the need for reform to our broken system.

We realize this is coming up soon, so we've written a ready-made litany for you, available for download at We hope this makes it easy for you to simply and quickly plan a vigil in your area. We also encourage you to invite your elected officials (since this is during a congressional recess) and the media to attend the event, too.

If you have questions or need more information, feel free to contact Kate, If you plan to hold a vigil, we encourage you to let us know and to register it at There you'll find other resources that may be helpful as you get your event off the ground.


Kate Kooyman
Congregational Justice Mobilizer
CRWRC / Office of Social Justice
616-241-1691 x 4236

Monday, December 29, 2008

Justice, Fairness, and an American Education

This is something I ran into the other day and is worth considering when talking about immigration in the United States.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Crosses

Here is an article on the Sojourner's website that might help put a little perspective on our upcoming holiday. I share this not to shame anyone but only that we may grow in love and understanding.

Christmas Tree Crosses

A special thanks to the writer of People Migrate for posting this link.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Douglas and Agua Prietta

My last week in Arizona I traveled with Francisco, another No More Deaths volunteer to the border town of Douglas. We were sent to help staff a migrant resource center set up by one of the local churches in Agua Prietta, the town just across the border. The church was kind enough to hook us up with a trailer to stay in and a couple of bikes to get around. The purpose of this shelter is to minister to migrants who have been dumped off by Border Patrol at the port of entry. Most migrants are not from this area and being dropped off in a foreign city with no contacts or money can be quite scary so the resource center provides a place for migrants to rest, get their bearings, grab something to eat and get oriented towards the shelters and other public resources in Agua Prietta. After a few moments of rest and coffee most people are eager to get moving and reconnect with their groups to attempt another crossing.
During our shifts Francisco and I saw a decent number of people come through the resource center but never in a steady stream. Border Patrol has no rhyme or reason to when they deport people. It could be day or night, in groups of one or to or an entire bus load. For that reason we tried to keep the resource center open 24/7 but staffing wouldn’t allow that often times.
On rare occasions we were able to sit with the migrants and hear about their journeys. It struck me that even though all the people we encountered had just been dealt a major setback. Most were still very driven and ready to attempt the journey again. Border Patrol was not seen as an impossible barrier but simply an obstacle that with enough time and patience would be overcome.
The most significant moment of my time in Douglas came on Friday evening. Each week some of the local volunteers have a memorial event remembering those who have died in the dessert just outside of Douglas. Each of us took an armload of white wooden crosses. On the front were the names and death dates of people who had been found. We then started walking along the road, calling out the names of the people on our crosses and placing them along the curb. Hundreds of crosses were layed down and by the time we reached our last one we were near the port of entry. Right there in front of the passing traffic we gathered around and remembered four names in particular pastor ----- reminded us that the names we saw were lives once, they were maybe mothers, maybe fathers, maybe brothers or sisters to someone who loved and missed them. They were also image bearers of God and loved by him.
As we walked back we gatherd the crosses in a shopping cart. Each week a few more are added to the pile.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Arizona Desert

After a summer hiatus putting in a leisurely 80 hours a week at architecture school, it is time to finally let you know how the end of our trip went. Before we get into it though, some of you have mentioned that only blogspot members can leave comments on our posts. That should be fixed now so we would love to hear from you regardless of whether you are a blogspotter or not.

As I mentioned in our last entry, Steve headed back to California once we reached Tucson but I stuck around a few more weeks to finnish out our research. I had heard that the Arizona desert was one of the deadliest parts of the border and wanted to see what that meant. In Tucson I hooked up with an organization called No More Deaths and volunteered with them for two weeks in order to see the Sonora desert firsthand.

No More Deaths is an organization that was started by several local churches in response to the rising number of migrants dying in the Sonora desert. They send out patrols through the desert to look for people who may be in danger and also leave out gallons of water along well traveled trails to help prevent severe dehydration. (Just recently one volunteer was cited for littering because he left several gallons of water in the desert.) The sole purpose of this organization (if the name did not tip you off) is to prevent deaths in the desert.

My first week volunteering I spent hiking on patrols in the desert just south of Arivaca. I had done some work with No More Deaths before so I thought I knew what to expect. I had no idea we would run into 40+ migrants, manage two medical evacuations, and then wait helplessly for days to hear from a migrant named Sergio after he took off into the desert with no water, food, or maps. (he made it safely by the way)

Our first morning in the desert I had been selected to stay at camp while the rest of the crew split up to go on patrols. After constantly being on the move I was looking forward to a leisurely morning of reading and reflection. Half an hour after the crew had left, I heard a pickup roaring over the hill. It was Jimmy, one of our volunteers and in the bed of the pickup was a migrant he had found along the road just outside our camp. His name was Pedro and he had been waiting all night along the road hoping someone would come by.

Despite his latino complexion Pedro looked quite pale. He was doubled over and could barely walk to the cot we hastily brought out for him. He said he had been vomiting all night and as soon as he laid down he began to dry heave. Immediately we called 911 and after a twenty minute conversation, the lady at dispatch figured out where our base camp was (apparently she was new). We tried to give Pedro some water but he threw it up right away. He complained of pain on his sides, an indication that his kidneys were failing. The look on his face betrayed the fear he was trying to stifle.

As we waited for the ambulance I started asking him about where he was from, his family, anything to keep his mind off his current situation. He said he had a wife and three month old daughter back in Mexico. We congratulated him on his new child and he began to calm down. After an hour of waiting, a pickup with a firefighter and a paramedic arrived. They started an IV of saline and within minutes Pedro's body began to look better.

We discovered that he had been separated from his group and after a day without water he drank from a cattle tank which is nothing more than a manure filled pool. That evening his body had reacted and soon he had vomited out more water than he gained. If he had spent another day in the Arizona heat, he most likely would have died.

Eventually a real ambulance arrived and took Pedro to the hospital in Nogales. He would soon recover and be sent back to Mexico.

This is just one of the many migrants I saw that week. Most were in groups and quickly went on their way after thanking us for the water and snacks we provided. Some had been separated from their groups and would have continued wandering had they not found our patrol. One woman had to be airlifted out by a Border Patrol helicopter. Some people were from Mexico but many had come up from Central or even South America. Each person had their own reason for crossing the desert. For some it was a calculated risk, some were simply ignorant of the risks before they left, still others had been overtly lied to by Coyotes (smugglers) who cared more about money than the cargo they transported.

Friday, June 20, 2008

To the Line

First of all I must apologise. Our blog posts have been a little deceiving lately. Steve and I are not still in Mexico. We got back into the U.S. on May 29. We have been a little behind on keeping you up with our current events but hopefully by the end of the weekend everyone will be caught up. So for those of you still wondering and worrying, we are back to our respective places and both in good health.
After a day in Tierra Blanca Steve and I realized we were running out of both time and money. For both these reasons, and because we did not want to be left stranded in the middle of Mexico, we decided to hop, skip, and jump to the border so we could learn about what it takes to actually cross into the States. The bus ride North took us two and a half days. We crossed all kinds of different terrain and were exhausted by the time we got to Nogales (border town between Sonora and Arizona). With our handy dandy passports we hopped right through the border and made straight for the shuttle heading to Tucson. I was so excited to be back in the U.S. that I walked right up to the ticket desk and asked in proud English how much it was for a ticket.
I was met by a blank look.
"¿Como?" said the guy behind the desk.
Turns out people speak Spanish in America too.
Eventually we made it up to Tucson thanks to the generosity of a few No More Deaths volunteers. Being in an American city again was welcoming. It felt strange to walk past a group of people and understand their conversation. People were so white there too. I can't figure out how you can live in a desert and not have an ounce of tan. The next morning we visited the University of Arizona to use the Internet and enjoy the beautiful air conditioning. Steve decided he had had enough and we parted ways after he booked a Greyhound ticket for San Diego.
I was thinking about why we did this trip and was brought back to Matthew 22:37-40 "And he said to them, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
Love, the law hangs on love. Often one of the questions we got while preparing for this trip was whether or not the people we were going to talk to were illegal immigrants. I don't know why people asked this question and I am sure there are plenty of reasons for it but the answer I never dared to give was: "does it really matter?". The people we met on our trip were our neighbors. They are moving thousands of miles to make that literally true. So if all the rest of the law depends on the command to love God and neighbor, what does it matter if they are in possession of a few extra legal documents? In my interpretation the word 'depends' could be equally translated as 'is subordinate to' which means laws such as immigration take a back seat to the more important law of love for neighbor.
I understand that it is tough to see people as neighbors and friends when the rhetoric we hear screams 'illegals' but I hope as we continue to share more stories with you that you may see the people we describe as image bearers of God with families and lives all their own. I would argue that our adherence to the second greatest commandment for any Christian depends on learning how to see through our circumstances to find our neighbors.

Tierra Blanca

The morning after our train ride I woke up surprisingly comfortable. The motionless quiet of the field we slept in was a great luxury next to the screaming and churning of the train. Just 50 feet away there was a sign warning of all the poisonous bugs and reptiles in the area. I laughed at how small that danger seemed next to what we just went through. After everyone was up we went and grabbed some breakfast before saying final goodbyes. Even though we were headed the same direction it seemed unlikely that we would run into each other again.
We took a taxi to the nearest town and grabbed a bus to Tierra Blanca, the next known stop for the train. Tierra Blanca was a hot, dirty city. There were no birds singing but our sticky shirts let us know we were still in the tropics. Again in a new city, we were subjected to the stares of people who were not used to gringo visitors.
Along the tracks we ran into Alex and Roberto who we had met back in Arriaga. They said everything had been going well so far and that to their estimation there were about 500 people in town waiting for the next train. Alex had lived in the U.S. for 9 years doing construction work before getting deported. This was his eigth trip to the U.S. Roberto was his nephew, an adventerous 15 year old who decided to go with his uncle to find work. Alex said they hadn't had money for a meal in a while so Steve quickly ran to the store to get some bread for them to pass around.
As we talked Alex said he was not trying to work in the U.S. anymore. He said he was fed up with being deported so this time he was going to try to make it all the way to Canada where it was less likely that he would be deported. His motives for leaving however, were quite unique.

Alex's family had been fighting with another family for quite some time. He already had four relatives killed by the other family and he had left for the States fearing for his life. Now that he had been caught and deported several times he decided to try his luck working in Canada. We asked him why he had not tried to go to another Latin American country and he said he did not like the corruption that was always around. He was afraid he would be found unless he headed somewhere completely away from his Honduran ties.
The United States has a mandate to accept any political refugees seeking asylum but as far as I know that policy does not apply to family situations even if the threat is the same. I will never really be able to understand what it is like to flee a country fearing for your life but I sympathize with Alex's positon. Sircumstances have forced him to leave everything that he knew and now if he goes back to the U.S. he will be considered a criminal. I hope he and Roberto make it to Canada. I hope they find good work there. I mourn the fact that there is no way for them to find safety in a country that works so hard to keep me safe.