OPENING THE MEXICAN-USA BORDER
This past Tuesday, September 24 I had the grand opportunity to hear Nell Anderson talk about her time in El Paso, Texas where she worked with migrants.
Nell is a former Wausau resident and Wausau School District employee. She went on a transformative awareness trip to El Paso, Texas with Abriendo Fronteras—Opening Borders.
She met migrants and human rights advocates on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. In her group were people from Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado, Oregon, and Wisconsin. They stayed in a mission center in El Paso.
They worked very hard for the eight days they were there: buying food, cooking meals for 500 people, and doing laundry for the dorms where the migrants stay. Nell said she had no trouble sleeping at night.
When the center’s wash machine and refrigerator broke down, Nell’s group was able to replace them with monetary donations and grant money from Thrivent Insurance.
Nell also said that she speaks some Spanish and that Google Translate is a wonderful service!
The Annunciation House was established in 1978 as a clearing house for immigrants. It is the umbrella organization that helps immigrants connect with needed services: seeking asylum, connecting with US relatives and in some cases, finding help with finances and language as well as basic necessities.
They attended Sunday church service at Christ the King Lutheran Church where the service was done in both English and Spanish. The extra Sunday School rooms are used for immigrants as they wait for relatives and transportation. The Open Borders group cooked food there as well.
The Open Borders group visited the Wall. Over 700 miles of wall have been built under previous presidents. The border walls differ: solid concrete, steel and in some cases wire fencing.
- In some instances, the wall on the U.S. side divides people’s property and even farms. The farmers have difficulty getting to their land on the other side of the wall.
- From El Paso, you can easily see into Mexico. In some places, the mountains make it difficult to build a wall. The terrain keeps shifting as does the Rio Grande river.
- Throughout El Paso, Nell saw no objections to migrants. There were no billboards telling migrants to go back where they came from. In fact, local people were very grateful for people coming from all over the US to help in the migrant centers.
The group visited with Custom Border Patrol Officers. The officers said that this is a humanitarian issue. Ten years ago, they saw more single men. Now they see more family units with little children. Why? The migrants lived in challenging situations of drought and unemployment and gangs. Migrants come to the USA for work.
- Some migrants without papers and without US support have to stay in Mexico until they are connected with some support in the U.S. There are many immigrants waiting in Mexico.
- Nell’s group interacted with the migrants but did not pry into their personal stories. She met Dr. Mendoza who runs a clinic for the migrants and gives them needed medicine.
- She met a Catholic priest and nun who have kept track of immigrants who died at the border.
- Nell’s group visited Uncaged Art, an art show in the El Paso Museum featuring art work by children in makeshift camps or detention camps. The beautiful art work was colorful and very carefully done.
- Nell’s group visited the Immigration Court where the Judge gave them a briefing on what happens when migrants come to court for asylum. Some got residency and some got worker’s permits.
An old warehouse in El Paso was converted into dorms that now house 1500 refugees. Porta potties and showers were installed. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross brought cots. The walls were decorated.
Nell told how she sent food for the journey. Most migrants stay 3 to 5 days in the center, waiting for a bus ticket or an airline ticket to travel to their relatives where they will live. Nell’s group packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water for the migrants to take on their trip.
Nell’s group also visited the Detention Center which is run for-profit, with charges of $700 per night per person for a cot in a tent! There was very tight security and the place looked like a prison with watch towers, strong lights and strong fences. The group went in as the choir for the Sunday worship service. The service was very moving.
There are many people from the US who come to El Paso to help out for a short time or longer. If you are interested in joining such a group, here are three websites to check out: