Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Border Ministries

This post follows up on the prior one, which discussed the recent Border Forum at my church. This post includes more information about various Christian ministries and efforts to raise consciousness of the humanitarian tragedy along the border.

The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona has a Border Ministries program. The link below has information at it. The members of my church who visited the border recently indicate the program consists of just one priest and a few interns.


The Reverend Seth Polley (who shepherds St. John’s parish in Bisbee and St. Stephen’s in Douglas) is very active in border issues and leads that Border Ministries program. The website for St. John’s is available at the link below.


Reverend Polley has had a blog, which is available at the link below. It has not been kept current, but his perspective is interesting to read.


The Presbyterian church has also been active in border ministries. They have founded “Frontera de Cristo,” which can be translated as “Christ’s Border.” Frontera de Cristo is a vibrant program with opportunities for short term and longer term service projects, and various outreach and advocacy efforts. During their trip to the border, my fellow congregants learned about the Café Justo cooperative program for fair trade coffee development in Mexico. Frontera de Christo also hosts the weekly precession in the desert that I referenced in the prior post. Take a look at the organization’s website below; they have some insightful pictures and information about things that are happening along the border.


My fellow congregants also visited a clinic in Naco on the Mexico side of the border. The link below contains some information about that clinic, which is sponsored by Christians on the American side of the border.


Members of my church also visited the desert near the border and learned of the work of a non-denominational faith-based organization called “Humane Borders,” which helps to alleviate the suffering and prevent the deaths of migrants. Among the organization’s activities, they have established a network of water stations where migrants can get clean water while they are in the desert and exposed to brutal conditions. The organization’s website is available at the link below.


Finally, my fellow congregants visited the Centro de Atención al Migrante Exodus (“CAME”) in Agua Prieta on the Mexico side of the border. It is a ministry of the Catholic church and provides short-term food and a place to stay for people who have attempted unsuccessfully to migrate to the U.S. In recent years, the U.S. Border Patrol has returned migrants to Mexico, but to a different place than their point of entry into the United States. As a result, the returned migrants are often disoriented and even unsure where along the border they have landed. CAME meets the acute needs of such migrants as they attempt to figure out what to do next. The link below is an old article, but contains a brief mention of the CAME ministry in Agua Prieta.


Exodus 12:49

There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.

Leviticus 19:33

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.

Leviticus 25:35

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Border Forum

Our family’s church recently had a dinner where several members spoke about a trip they took to the Arizona-Sonora border to meet with Christians ministering to the needs of migrants and others in the area. It was a very somber discussion but very enlightening.

Several of the people who spoke have lived for long periods very close to the border, but had been away for about six years. They talked about how much the border area has changed in that time. It used to be that you rarely encountered the border patrol, but their presence is now quite noticeable. One woman talked about the new presence of the “ugly” and “wasteful” border wall. One man talked about how it used to be possible to cross the border casually to go shopping or to go to a restaurant, but now it took hours to cross into Mexico. Because of the drug wars, the U.S. authorities are stopping cars going into Mexico looking for weapons and cash from the drug trade.

The people who had been on the border trip talked about their visits with people who worked on the border ministering to migrants. There is a procession on Tuesdays where crosses are carried bearing the names of migrants who died trying to come into the U.S. Most die from exposure to the elements in the harsh desert climate. It was a moving part of the Border Forum discussion when our fellow congregants spoke of participating in the procession and carrying a cross in memory of one of the men who had died. Our deacon talked about the humanity of each of those people who died. Each one of them is our neighbor and a precious child of the most high God. That point is rarely if ever mentioned in the ugly rhetoric about immigration these days. It particularly grieves me that Christians don’t emphasize it more in the public debate. We Christians purport to value the sanctity of human life--all human life, not just unborn babies.

The panel at the Border Forum also talked about meeting some of the migrants when the folks from our church crossed to the Mexican side of the border. Most of the migrants were men and most were fairly young. The men our fellow congregants met were largely from Chiapas, a very poor and troubled region in Southern Mexico. There were also some men from Central America—Guatemala in particular. The people from our church asked these migrants why they came all that way to enter the United States illegally. The response was that there was dire economic need. They had families and there were no jobs where they came from. The bottom line was that the families of these men needed them to provide for them. Coming to the United States for work was their best opportunity. The men indicated they would rather stay home because they hated to be separated from their loved ones. But to stay home meant no way to provide for them.

Psalm 116:3

The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety.

Luke 12:4

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot afterward do anything worse.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Border Security and Drugs

Mexico is an amazing country, but it also has a lot of difficult problems. These problems have various causes and there seems to be no easy fixes.

One of the biggest challenges Mexico faces at the current time is the dominance of illegal narco-commerce. It is has become a huge segment of the Mexican economy. The strength of the cartels has challenged the rule of law. The local and federal governments have been unable to get the situation under control. The cartels have become more ruthlessly violent as they compete for control and respond to government attempts to crack down. Regular folks are terrified. Their understandable fear has changed how they live their lives. The culture and the economy of Mexico have both been impacted negatively.

The drug violence tearing Mexico apart and ruining its economy is based on the profitability of supplying the United States’ huge appetite for narcotics. This is the case despite the fact that such substances have been criminalized in our country for decades. This point doesn’t get mentioned enough in American news or our civic discourse. Mexican drug cartels are the main foreign supplier of marijuana and methamphetamines to the American black market. Because of its geography, Mexico is also the main artery for cocaine from South America to enter the United States.

I admit that I have never used any of these drugs and I have no understanding of why anyone would use them. To be very honest, I also have little patience for people who use them.

Nonetheless, I try very hard to integrate Christ’s teachings in my life. I try really hard to not pass judgment on those who use illegal drugs. No one is perfect, and I’m very cognizant that we all sin. Maybe I’ll never smoke pot or do whatever one does with methamphetamines, but I know I have a big ole beam in my own eye and ought not worry about the splinters in the eyes of others.

But it is hypocritical for us Americans to vilify Mexicans fleeing Mexico when our nation’s schizophrenic approach to drugs is causing such devastating harm to our neighbors. Our nation’s appetite for illegal drugs is certainly not the sole cause of all of Mexico’s problems. But we certainly bear some responsibility for the current plight of our neighbor.

I’m frustrated with those who use illegal drugs. And I’m frustrated at the lack of creativity of our policy makers to continue with the same bankrupt policies. It seems to me we either need to find a way to cut our demand and consumption of these toxic substances, or we need to find a way to eliminate the huge profit potential from supplying our nation’s demand for narcotics. The status quo has had a devastating enough impact in our own country, but it puts our neighbor at risk for becoming a narco-state. If my neighbor’s house goes up in flames, my home is also at risk to burn.

Acts 17:30 (GOD’S WORD Translation)

“God overlooked the times when people didn’t know any better. But now he commands everyone everywhere to turn to him and change the way they think and act.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Myopic Nature of the Current Border Debate

Before things began to get so dangerous in Mexico, my husband and I had enjoyed traveling in different parts of the country. As an undergrad, Spanish was one of my two majors. My husband has also studied the language, but to a lesser degree. We both enjoyed being immersed in the Spanish language and getting the opportunity to practice our skills. We also enjoyed exploring the culture. We are both native Texans and have lived most of our lives in parts of the state with a significant Chicano influence and a fairly frequent interaction with Mexico. Because Mexicanidad has been part of our life experience in the United States, I suppose it makes logical sense we would feel an affinity for Mexico.

When my husband and I used to travel in Mexico, border towns like Juárez and Nuevo Laredo were fun day trips from Texas, but we particularly enjoyed traveling well beyond the border. We absolutely adored the culture, history and cuisine of Mexico City. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to a fair number of places around the world and Mexico City is one of my all time favorites. I spent a summer there studying law and interning with the Commerce Ministry, so I have not just seen the city as a tourist. I have been all over the metropolitan area, gotten to know some neighborhoods fairly well, and have braved rush hour on a regular basis.

When we used to travel to Mexico, my husband and I also found Monterrey to be modern and a lot of fun. We have also been to Mexican beach towns in the East. We spent our honeymoon in Cancun and years later went with our family to Isla Mujeres. My husband and I have also visited beach towns on the West Coast like Ensenada. But in our children’s young lives, we’ve never been able to take them to explore the beauty of Mexico because of the security issues.

Obviously, we’re not the only foreigners who are foregoing travel to Mexico. And plenty of Mexicans are fleeing the country due to the violence, political insecurity and economic implosion. Meanwhile, in the United States, our focus on Mexico has been myopic and unrealistic. We vilify Mexican peasants who risk their lives and endure all kinds of exploitation to come here in desperation to provide for their families.

In our public discourse, we insist on “securing the border.” We act like that is a simple task. In reality, it is a complicated, expensive and monumental task due to the huge expanse of territory involved. Some would say it is an impossible task to truly “secure” the border. Undeterred, we build an expensive, ugly (and useless) wall to keep out those whom we do not want to enter our country. But we never get to the root of the problem. We never ask why people are risking their lives to cross the border in increasingly large numbers.

Because we never seek to get to the root causes of the issue and only attack the issue in a simplistic manner, I fear we are doomed to fail in our efforts and simply waste a lot of government resources. If the motivations to cross the border are huge, no literal or figurative wall is going to be effective. The root causes of the exodus are in Mexico, but most Americans seem to have no interest in looking at those root causes.

My sense is that many Americans feel that we have plenty of problems in our own country and whatever is going on in Mexico is a problem exclusively for the Mexicans to solve. That certainly is an attitude with plenty of intuitive appeal. But the fact is that we’re neighbors and our common geography makes it impossible for us to ignore what is happening in Mexico to prompt escalating violence and increasing numbers of people to cross the border illegally.

Our family lives in a suburban subdivision. If our next door neighbor’s house caught on fire, it would be inhumane for us to refuse help. Putting ethics aside entirely, it would also be against our family’s own self interest. If our neighbors’ house fire got out of control, it could also destroy our common fence, our family’s yard or even our family’s home. It would be the right thing to do to let our neighbors use the phone or to call 911 for them. If we had a fire extinguisher or water hoses that could help put out the fire before it became unwieldy, that would not only be the humane thing to do, it would help us protect our own home and property. It certainly wouldn’t make much sense to sit around and ignore the fact that there was a fire. It would make even less sense to sit around griping about our neighbors while we heard them knocking on our front door asking for help.

Luke 10:25-29 (The Message) Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?" He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?" He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself." "Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live." Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Changes Along the Arizona-Sonora Border

I live several hours from the Arizona-Sonora border. To date, I’ve never crossed the Arizona-Sonora border. In part that is because I’ve been busy and I’ve only lived in Arizona a few years. But in part I’ve never crossed into Sonora because I follow the lead of my neighbors. I know plenty of people in the metro Phoenix area who used to enjoy going to towns like Nogales and Rocky Point, but no longer feel safe doing so. Security on the Mexico side of the border has deteriorated significantly in the last few years.

Several months ago I was touched by a report on NPR by Claudio Sanchez. Apparently, Mr. Sanchez (a regular contributor to NPR) is originally from Nogales, Sonora. In the report, he described changes to his home town.

The link below contains that report:


Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Changing Dynamics of the El Paso-Juárez Metropolis

Our family lives in the metro Phoenix area. Our home is located several hours from the U.S.-Mexico border. When we drive to visit our relatives in Texas, we drive along the border at various times. In El Paso, especially, we come very close to the border, and we can see people on the Mexico side in their Juárez neighborhoods.

In the past 5-10 years, El Paso has changed so much. The tourist brochures used to give information about crossing the border to go to Juárez for shopping, dining, bar hopping and cultural diversions. That is no longer the case. The tourist brochures now discreetly advise visitors to visit the State Department website to study current warnings before crossing the border.

Over the years, I have had friends and family in El Paso, and we used to love going to Juárez for lunch or to go shopping. It was a lot of fun and we felt safe. But that is no longer the case. The last time my husband and I crossed the border to visit Juárez was around 2002.

In recent years, the middle class merchants and professionals, as well as the affluent in Juárez, have been abandoning the city and moving to El Paso. The residential real estate market in El Paso has been catering to Juareños, and there is a flurry of new businesses on the U.S. side of the border as merchants from Juárez establish new businesses in their new hometown. This exodus has been devastating to the Mexico side of the border metropolis. But I don’t see how anyone could blame the people fleeing Juárez. The scale of the violence is astounding.

In 2007, Juárez had 307 homicides. In 2008, there were 1,600. In 2009 there were 2,600.

Beyond Juárez, nearly 24,000 people have been killed in all of Mexico since late 2006 when Felipe Calderón became president and began to wage war on the Mexican drug cartels. Nearly 24,000 human beings. That is about twice as many people in my husband’s hometown.

The links below include some insightful journalism on the situation in the El Paso- Juárez urban area:

Job 3:25 Everything I fear and dread comes true. Psalm 91:5 You need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Terry Goddard on Arizona’s Growing Reputation as the “New Mississippi”

Terry Goddard was the Democratic challenger to Jan Brewer in the 2010 Arizona governor’s race. Mr. Goddard served as Arizona’s Attorney General from 2002 until 2011. He had also been the mayor of Phoenix from 1983 until 1990.

When our family first moved to Arizona several years ago, there were several prominent Democrats serving the state, and moderate Republican John McCain was the state’s most famous member of Congress. By 2010, the state had become more and more dominated by Republicans and partisan, conservative politics. Even though Mr. Goddard seemed to have done a good job as Attorney General and had strong credentials, the Democratic label seemed toxic in his gubernatorial campaign. After the primary results were announced, the local newscasts were already proclaiming that Mr. Goddard had no shot at winning and Jan Brewer would serve another term as governor. Even when Governor Brewer embarrassed herself (and the state) with an incoherent performance in the gubernatorial debate, she was a shoo-in simply because she was the Republican nominee. The links below have some coverage of the debate fiasco. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Elections/Governors/2010/0903/Jan-Brewer-debate-gaffe-How-badly-will-it-hurt-her-chances

I voted for Mr. Goddard in the primary and in the general election, though in my heart it did seem like a pointless exercise. I guess I am used to such experiences. When my husband and I first moved from Texas and went to the Arizona DMV, the woman who processed our license and voter registration paperwork was visibly surprised at a few details of applications. She said that she didn’t realize there were any Democrats in Texas and asked how that worked. We admitted we were used to being in the political minority in our home state. And now we are finding that we continue to be in the political minority in our adopted state. Terry Goddard left office as Attorney General at the end of December. Arizona no longer has any non-Republicans in state-wide elected office. Not long before he left office, I listened to an interview with Mr. Goddard, which raised even more my admiration for him as he spoke insightfully and pragmatically about the issues facing Arizona. In the interview, Mr. Goddard shared insights about the current border issues and Arizona’s growing reputation as the “new Mississippi” because of enactment of S.B. 1070. The link below contains that interview.

Psalm 43:3 Send your light and your truth; may they lead me and bring me back to Zion, your sacred hill, and to your Temple, where you live.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Guest Blogger McKay Cunningham on the Divisiveness of Birthright Citizenship

Few take the middle ground or are undecided. Websites devoted to the topic are rife with dire projections, and the comments posted by individuals after any given article are too often vitriolic.

But what does the Constitution actually say about birthright citizenship? What legal grounds support those who argue that children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants are not U.S. citizens?

The legal arguments focus, of course, on the language found in the Constitution itself. The Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1868) states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…”

Most legal scholars agree that this provision contains two prongs: (1) persons born in the U.S., and (2) persons subject to the jurisdiction thereof. It is this later phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” that spurs legal disagreement.

Opponents of Birthright Citizenship

Those opposed to birthright citizenship argue that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” includes an allegiance component. If a person is born within the territorial boundaries of the U.S. and owes allegiance to the U.S., that person is a citizen. Because those who are in the U.S. unlawfully owe primary allegiance to the country of their origin, their children (by imputation) would also owe primary allegiance to that nation and therefore would not be citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Is there any legal authority for interpreting “subject to the jurisdiction” to include allegiance? What did those who drafted the phrase intend for it to mean? Opponents of birthright citizenship point to the Congressional debates that took place prior to ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to discern the intent of the drafters. At one point during the debates, congressmen suggested that that the phrase would not confer citizenship on children born of Native American parents because Native Americans owed primary allegiance to their respective tribes. This insertion of “allegiance” during the congressional debates bolsters the argument that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” requires allegiance to the U.S. before citizenship will be awarded.

There is little case law support, however, for this contention. A few U.S. Supreme Court decisions handed down shortly after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified imply that the Amendment narrowly applies to African Americans alone. As discussed below, this view has not prevailed.

Proponents of Birthright Citizenship

Those who support birthright citizenship argue that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means nothing more than what it says – subject to the power of the U.S. If a person is born within the territorial boundaries of the U.S. and that person is subject to the power or laws of the U.S., that person is a citizen. Because children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. are subject to the power and/or laws of the U.S., they are citizens.

Like those who oppose birthright citizenship, proponents point to congressional debates as authoritative support. Indeed, at one point during the debates, congressmen agreed that children born to Chinese nationals within the U.S. would automatically obtain citizenship. This portion of the debate supports the idea that “subject to the jurisdiction” merely means subject to the laws of the U.S.

Several Supreme Court decisions support this interpretation. Chief among them is Wong Kim Ark, a 1898 opinion that reviewed the history of birthright citizenship in England and the U.S. The Court articulated the English common law rule “of citizenship by birth within the dominion.” No allegiance component was required. Indeed, several U.S. Supreme Court cases have reiterated this concept. Although opponents of birthright citizenship quibble that these opinions are not authoritative for a variety of hyper-technical reasons, the clear import of the case law addressing the Fourteenth Amendment supports birthright citizenship.

Constitutional Consensus

Because the language of the Fourteenth Amendment does not textually include “allegiance,” and because Supreme Court precedent has not embraced an interpretation that includes allegiance, most constitutional scholars submit that birth within the U.S. plus an obligation to obey U.S. law confers citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment. Recent efforts pushed by a handful of states to create tiered citizenship for those born in the U.S. by parents who are unlawfully present in the U.S. are most assuredly unconstitutional. But that is an altogether different topic….